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Prisoner Education Guide

Prison Legal News: December, 2012

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Volume 23, Number 12

In this issue:

  1. Momentum Builds to End Prison-Based Gerrymandering (p 1)
  2. From the Editor (p 12)
  3. Oregon DOC Gets Tiny Cut of $3.34 Million Pfizer Settlement (p 12)
  4. CCA Ceases Operations at Mississippi Prison, County Jail (p 14)
  5. Florida DOC Program Targets Incarcerated Veterans (p 14)
  6. PLN Settles Public Records Suit Against PHS in Vermont, Obtains Settlement Payout Information (p 16)
  7. Washington Jail Prisoner Settles Retaliation Claim for $10,000 (p 16)
  8. Transgender Prisoner’s Lawsuit Sparks BOP Policy Change (p 18)
  9. Fifth Circuit Upholds Former Texas State Judge’s Bribery-Related Convictions (p 18)
  10. States Create Special Commissions to Study Flat-Fee Indigent Defense (p 20)
  11. GAO Report Examines Contraband Cell Phone Use in BOP Facilities (p 22)
  12. Former New York DOCS Food Director Pleads Guilty to Grand Larceny (p 24)
  13. Texas Slashes Prison Education Budget (p 24)
  14. Misconduct at U.S. Army Lab Taints Hundreds of Military Prosecutions (p 26)
  15. Oregon DOC Did Not Report 78 Prisoner Deaths in 2010-2011 (p 28)
  16. Virginia Prison Policy Prohibiting Secular, Non-Religious CDs Held Unconstitutional (p 31)
  17. America Eats its Young: Arizona Communities Embrace Use of Private Prison Employees in Drug Raids at Public Schools (p 32)
  18. Report Criticizes New Hampshire’s Treatment of Female Prisoners; Lawsuit Filed (p 34)
  19. Fifth Circuit Reverses $250,000 Award to Mississippi Prisoner Held too Long (p 36)
  20. U.S. Sentencing Commission Calls Federal Mandatory Minimums “Excessively Severe” (p 36)
  21. Arkansas Prison Director Suspended by Board of Corrections (p 38)
  22. Texas Federal Court Issues Preliminary Injunction Prohibiting Sex Offender Parole Conditions; Case Settles for $52,000 (p 38)
  23. Federal Court Upholds Maryland Law that Reclassifies Prisoners for Redistricting (p 40)
  24. Fifth Circuit Holds Mailbox Rule Applies to Legal Mail Rejected Under Bogus Prison Rule (p 40)
  25. New North Carolina DOC Hospital Promises Better Healthcare for Prisoners (p 42)
  26. Michigan DOC Taser Experiment Touted; Prison Perimeter Patrols to End (p 42)
  27. Missouri County Ordered to Present Civil Detainees Before Court within 27 Hours; $75,000 Damages Settlement (p 44)
  28. Organizations Submit Letters to FCC Urging Action on Prison Phone Rates (p 44)
  29. West Memphis Three Released, but Justice Not Served and Questions Remain (p 46)
  30. Oregon Re-Sells Unused Execution Drugs (p 47)
  31. Philadelphia Women Prisoners Sue for Being Housed with a Man (p 48)
  32. California: Jail Nurse Receives $703,957 in Retaliation Suit Against County, PHS (p 48)
  33. Puerto Rico DOC Fires 97 Guards, Suspends More Than 100 (p 49)
  34. News in Brief (p 50)

Momentum Builds to End Prison-Based Gerrymandering

Four states and hundreds of local governments are standing up to reject one of the most repugnant aspects of the prison industrial complex: Legislators with prisons located in their districts who claim the people incarcerated there – who cannot vote – as their “constituents,” then use their newfound political clout to further expand the prison system.

The problem originates with the U.S. Census Bureau, which has, for hundreds of years, counted incarcerated people as residents of the location where they are imprisoned rather than their pre-incarceration address. With the first census in 1790, this didn’t matter at all.
Few people were in prison, they weren’t locked up that far from home and, most importantly, the data wasn’t used for anything other than determining a state’s number of Congressional seats. So long as the Census Bureau could figure out that New York had 10 seats in Congress and New Jersey had 5, it didn’t matter whether someone was a resident of rural Attica or urban Brooklyn, just that they were counted in New York State.

Today, however, we incarcerate far more people and use census data far differently. Since a series of voting rights cases in the ...

From the Editor

This is the last issue of PLN for 2012. By now, all PLN subscribers should have received our annual fundraising appeal; if you have not yet donated, and can afford to do so, then please do. This year we are asking our readers for donations to help support the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice. For almost a decade the Federal Communications Commission has been sitting on the Martha Wright petition, which asks the FCC to cap the cost of interstate phone calls made by prisoners.

We have put an enormous amount of resources and effort into the national campaign, along with our partner organizations, the Center for Media Justice and Working Narratives, to pressure the FCC to act. In October 2012 the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the parent organization of PLN, submitted a letter to the FCC supported by 60 other criminal justice organizations asking that they take action on the Wright petition. In November, a coalition of 110 immigration rights groups and academic professionals submitted a similar letter.

In addition to making a donation so we can keep up the pressure with the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, we are also asking our readers to write to the ...

Oregon DOC Gets Tiny Cut of $3.34 Million Pfizer Settlement

The Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) was duped by Pfizer, Inc.’s misleading statements and studies used to market an antibiotic, according to the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ). As such, the ODOC received part of a $3.34 million settlement between the State of Oregon and the pharmaceutical giant ...

CCA Ceases Operations at Mississippi Prison, County Jail

On November 10, 2011, Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps announced the closure of the privately-operated 1,172-bed Delta Correctional Facility in Leflore County. He said closing the prison was a mutual decision by state officials and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

CCA was being paid $31.15 per prisoner per day to manage the Delta facility when it reportedly had daily costs of $34.15 for each medium-security prisoner. State law requires private prisons to operate for 10 percent less than state facilities.

Epps said about 800 of the prisoners housed at Delta would be transferred to existing beds in state prisons, and the rest moved to regional jails. This will result in an estimated $10.2 million in annual savings, as the only additional expenses will be for the prisoners’ food, clothing and health care. With over 4,000 empty beds in the state’s prison system, it was impossible to justify the additional expense of maintaining the CCA-run facility.

“Since [CCA] came and wanted out of the contract, I said we really don’t need the prison,” said Epps. “I have to look at what is best for Mississippi.”

Commissioner Epps has also been pushing alternatives ...

Florida DOC Program Targets Incarcerated Veterans

The Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) has implemented a program for military veterans that includes special housing and counseling services. While some see the program as providing preferential treatment, FDOC officials view it as a way to meet the special needs of incarcerated veterans in hopes of rehabilitating them.

Of the approximately 101,000 FDOC prisoners, around 6,700 are veterans. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan stretched past ten years, the number of military veterans has increased, including the number entering the prison system. Critics have long complained that the government has failed to help veterans integrate back into society after their tours of duty in war zones.

“I think we are going to see a lot of the things we saw after Vietnam,” said FDOC Secretary Ken Tucker. “PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder] is real and we have a lot of Iraq and Afghanistan vets returning right now who don’t always want to talk about that.”

FDOC prisoners who were honorably discharged and are within three years of their release date may volunteer for the program, which houses them in units that hold about 400 prisoners each at the Gulf, Lowell, Martin, Santa Rosa and Sumter ...

PLN Settles Public Records Suit Against PHS in Vermont, Obtains Settlement Payout Information

On February 21, 2012, Prison Legal News settled a public records lawsuit filed in Vermont state court against Prison Health Services (PHS, now operating as Corizon Health, Inc.). As part of the settlement PHS agreed to produce records related to its resolution of legal claims against the company in Vermont, which included a total of $1.8 million in six cases.

PLN had filed suit against PHS on August 26, 2010 after the for-profit company, which provided medical care for Vermont state prisoners until the end of 2009, refused to produce documents pursuant to a public records request.

PLN requested copies of PHS’s contracts with government agencies in Vermont, records related to settlements and judgments that PHS had paid as a result of lawsuits and civil claims, and documents concerning costs incurred by PHS to defend against claims or lawsuits.

One of those claims involved the August 16, 2009 death of Ashley Ellis, 23, a Vermont prisoner who died at the Northwest State Correctional Facility just three days into a 30-day sentence. PHS employees had failed to give her potassium despite her repeated pleas for medical care and an order from her doctor. The medical examiner cited “denial of access ...

Washington Jail Prisoner Settles Retaliation Claim for $10,000

Washington State’s Pierce County has agreed to pay $10,000 to settle a federal lawsuit that claimed a prisoner was subjected to retaliation in the form of solitary confinement for exercising his First Amendment right of access to the courts.

Neil Grenning filed suit under 42 U.S.C ...

Transgender Prisoner’s Lawsuit Sparks BOP Policy Change

A lawsuit filed by a tranmasssgender federal prisoner in Massachusetts has resulted in the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) making appropriate medical care available “to [prisoners] who believe they are the wrong gender,” according to a May 31, 2011 memo issued to all BOP wardens. Previous BOP policy limited treatment of transgender prisoners to medical care that maintained them “at the level of [gender] change which existed when they were incarcerated.”

The prisoner who filed suit, Vanessa Adams, whose legal name is Nicholas Adams, had been diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder (GID) in 2005 by medical professionals at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners (USMCFP) in Springfield, Missouri.
Adams sought declaratory and injunctive relief under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202.

Her lawsuit noted that GID is a “recognized diagnosable and treatable medical condition listed in the American Psy-chiatric Association’s Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR).” Medically appropriate GID treatment options include providing patients with 1) hormones of the desired gender; 2) the “real life experience,” i.e. living full-time as the new gender; and 3) surgery to change the patient’s sex characteristics – often collectively referred to as “triadic therapy.”

According to her complaint, Adams “believed she ...

Fifth Circuit Upholds Former Texas State Judge’s Bribery-Related Convictions

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of a former Texas state judge on two counts of wire fraud and one count of making false statements related to bribes he received while in office.

After he was elected but before being sworn in as a state district judge, Manuel Barraza met with Diana Rivas Valencia, who was facing drug charges in another state court in El Paso. Rivas had asked to see Barraza because she was unhappy with her court-appointed attorney and wanted him replaced. Barraza suggested that he could “get rid of the charges” once he took office. “In exchange, Barraza wanted money and a ‘buffet’ of women.”

Rivas contacted the FBI, which recruited her sister, Sarai Valencia, to assist with the investigation. Valencia and an undercover FBI agent, posing as the woman who would provide sexual gratification, met with Barraza several times. Barraza outlined his plan to replace Rivas’ court-appointed attorney with someone he trusted after getting the case transferred to his court.

After receiving $1,300, Barraza filed a judicial order to transfer the case. However, a court coordinator stopped the transfer after noticing that Rivas had formerly been Barraza’s client when he was ...

States Create Special Commissions to Study Flat-Fee Indigent Defense

Some states may soon be doing more to guarantee the Sixth Amendment right to counsel for indigent criminal defend-ants.

Special commissions have been convened in Nevada, Idaho, Michigan and Pennsylvania to investigate how flat-fee contracts with private defense attorneys are failing defendants who can’t afford to hire counsel. Meanwhile, some courts are weighing whether the practice of flat-fee indigent defense is unconstitutional.

According to Stateline, the news service of The Pew Center on the States, more than a dozen states use flat-fee contract attorneys to represent indigent defendants in order to save money and provide relief to swamped public defenders’ offices. However, critics argue that such “contract counsel” tend to be young, inexperienced, penurious and overwhelmed by their own caseloads; thus, the supposed savings effectively subsidize backlogged appellate courts and state prisons filled with poorly-represented defendants.

“This type of contract creates a direct financial conflict of interest between the attorney and the client,” said David Carroll, research director at the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. “Because the lawyer will be paid the same amount, no matter how much or how little he works on each case, it is in the lawyer’s personal interest to devote as little ...

GAO Report Examines Contraband Cell Phone Use in BOP Facilities

by Derek Gilna and Brandon Sample

A September 2011 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), which reviewed the use of cell phones by federal prisoners, recommended various options to reduce the recent spike in such contraband devices. According to the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), “a number of reports have demonstrated that inmates are smuggling in cell phones to coordinate criminal activity, such as drug sales, assault, and murder.”

Possession of a cell phone by federal prisoners now brings possible criminal charges under the Cell Phone Contra-band Act of 2010 (Public Law No 111-225), codified at 18 U.S.C. § 1791, plus institutional discipline such as loss of privileges, loss of good time credits and transfer to a higher-security facility.

Although the GAO report included charts and graphs purporting to show that contraband cell phone possession is increasing, there is no discussion or analysis as to the rate of recovered cell phones per number of prisoners, which is a statistic of greater significance due to the steadily growing BOP population.

Second, there is no discussion in the report about the number of minutes of phone time that BOP prisoners are allotted – 300 per month and 400 in ...

Former New York DOCS Food Director Pleads Guilty to Grand Larceny

Howard Dean, the state employee who ran New York’s prison food services for 17 years, was treated like a big cheese by private vendors. In return, according to investigators, he gave them the secret ingredient for the cheese sauce served at prisons throughout the state.

The New York Department of Correctional Services (NYDOCS) ended up purchasing $300,000 worth of cheese sauce annually from Global Food Industries. And Dean, 66, who retired in 2008 as director of the prison system’s food production center in Oneida County, ate free steak dinners while his staff enjoyed free Christmas parties and picnics courtesy of the food vendors, according to reports released in April and August 2010 by New York’s Comptroller and Inspector General.

Overall, Dean allegedly steered $2.5 million in contracts to favored food vendors, including Global Food Industries and Good Source, Inc. He was also accused of faking travel records, falsifying hotel invoices and submitting fraudulent timesheets to sucker the state out of approximately $500,000 while employed with NYDOCS. [See: PLN, Nov. 2010, p.25].

“It’s ironic that Dean, as head of a criminal justice system, was no less a law violator than the prison population ...

Texas Slashes Prison Education Budget

by Matt Clarke

Faced with a $23 billion biennial state budget deficit, the Texas legislature has radically cut education programs in state prisons. Such short-term savings will undoubtedly result in long-term expenses, as education has been proven to reduce recidivism.

Jorge Renaud, 55, is an example of a prison education success story. On the path to becoming a career criminal, he was first incarcerated for burglary of a habitation and later for a pair of aggravated robberies.

During his second stint in prison, Renaud began taking college courses with financial assistance from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s (TDCJ) education system. The post-secondary classes helped him break the cycle of prison, release and re-incarceration.

“Why does anybody commit a crime? Stupidity, ignorance, irresponsibility. I thought I needed material possessions,” Renaud stated. But the college-level education he received while in prison helped him stop his self-destructive behavior.

Despite positive outcomes like Renaud’s, the Texas legislature slashed the 2011-2012 budget for the Windham School District to $95 million – a more than 25 percent cut from the district’s 2010-2011 budget, according to spokes-woman Bambi Kiser. She predicted the budget cuts will cause the 77,500 incarcerated students taking Windham GED ...

Misconduct at U.S. Army Lab Taints Hundreds of Military Prosecutions

Pentagon investigators are looking into allegations that an analyst at the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory (USACIL) botched hundreds of DNA tests, casting doubt about lab results in hundreds of prosecutions. An accused soldier who was forced to resign over allegations of sexual misconduct that were allegedly verified by USACIL is just one case where the lab’s questionable findings have adversely affected military careers.

Army Staff Sgt. Kirk Holcombe, 31, a decorated veteran who served in Iraq, was forced to take a discharge under less than honorable conditions, which barred him from receiving veterans’ medical benefits. According to his attorney, Duane Kees, “I think USACIL intentionally withholds, I don’t want to say their bad laundry, but their bad paperwork ... [they know] exactly what’s going to happen when they turn it over. It automatically calls into question their findings.”

After returning home from Iraq, Holcombe was stationed at Fort Knox in Kentucky in 2010 when an 11-year-old friend of his stepdaughter said that he tried to unzip her shorts while she was sleeping – a charge that Holcombe denied. While child protective services noted inconsistencies in the girl’s story and held the allegation was unsubstantiated, USACIL claimed ...

Oregon DOC Did Not Report 78 Prisoner Deaths in 2010-2011

Seventy-nine Oregon state prisoners died in 2010 and 2011, but the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) publicly disclosed just one of those deaths.

The 79 deaths occurred in nine of the ODOC’s 14 prisons, with three facilities reporting double-digit fatalities: 31 deaths at the Oregon State Penitentiary (OSP) in Salem, 23 at the Snake River Correctional Institution (SRCI), 11 at the Two Rivers Correctional Institution (TRCI), 5 at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, 4 at the Oregon State Correc-tional Institution (OSCI), 2 at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility (CCCF) and 1 each at the Columbia River Correctional Institution, South Fork Forest Camp and Deer Ridge Correctional Institution.

“Yes, there was only one media release for inmate deaths issued in 2010 and 2011,” admitted ODOC spokeswoman Jennifer Black. “When an inmate dies in DOC custody, the Department notifies the inmate’s family members or other designated emergency contact, the Oregon State Police, and as necessary, the local District Attorney and the State Medical Examiner.”

Legislative leaders also receive quarterly ODOC death reports, according to Black, which include the prisoner’s age, cause of death and disposition of their remains. Occasionally, the ODOC submits prisoner-death data to the U.S. Department ...

Virginia Prison Policy Prohibiting Secular, Non-Religious CDs Held Unconstitutional

On February 7, 2012, a U.S. District Court held that a Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) policy prohibiting prisoners from purchasing or possessing secular spoken-word compact discs was unconstitutional. The court invalidated the policy but also granted qualified immunity to the defendant prison officials.

Owen North, a friend of ...

America Eats its Young: Arizona Communities Embrace Use of Private Prison Employees in Drug Raids at Public Schools

In Arizona an unsettling trend appears to be underway: the use of private prison employees in law enforcement operations.

The state has graced headlines in recent years as the result of its cozy relationship with for-profit prison companies – for the role of the private prison industry in assisting in the dissemination of constitutionally-questionable immigration enforcement laws based on Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, for a private prison escape that resulted in the death of an elderly couple and a nationwide manhunt, and for a failed attempt to privatize almost the entire state prison system.

And now, recent events in the central Arizona town of Casa Grande show the hand of private prison corporations reaching into the classroom, assisting local law enforcement agencies in drug raids at public schools.

Trick or Treat

At 9 a.m. on the morning of October 31, 2012, students at Vista Grande High School in Casa Grande were settling in to their daily routine when something unusual occurred.

Vista Grande High School Principal Tim Hamilton ordered the school – with a student population of 1,776 – on “lock down,” kicking off the first “drug sweep” in the school’s four-year history. According to Hamilton, “lock down” is ...

Report Criticizes New Hampshire’s Treatment of Female Prisoners; Lawsuit Filed

A two-year investigation has concluded that the New Hampshire Department of Corrections is guilty of “inexcusable neglect” of female prisoners, according to a report released on October 17, 2011.

The New Hampshire State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said the 103 prisoners incarcerated at the State Prison for Women in Goffstown lack adequate educational and vocational programs, mental health and substance abuse treatment, outdoor recreation and private space for family visits.

“The failure of the state to provide comparable programs and services ... seriously affects the ability of women offenders to maintain appropriate family relationships, impairs their mental and physical health, and inhibits their ability to prepare for productive and self-supporting work upon their eventual release from prison,” the Advisory Committee noted in its report.

The Committee wrote that disparate conditions at the women’s prison could amount to a denial of their equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution, and likely contribute to New Hampshire’s dubious distinction as one of the few states where women prisoners have higher recidivism rates than men.

“Constitutional requirements, sound public policy and basic human decency all dictate what the state must surely understand already,” said outgoing Committee ...

Fifth Circuit Reverses $250,000 Award to Mississippi Prisoner Held too Long

by Matt Clarke

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Christopher B. Epps, the Commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC), was entitled to qualified immunity after a prisoner was held beyond the date he was supposed to be released.

Will Terrance Porter, a former Mississippi state prisoner, was convicted of breaking into a car and sentenced to five years. The trial court suspended four years of the sentence and ordered that he serve one year in an Intensive Supervision Program (ISP) run by the MDOC, which included house arrest.

While under house arrest Porter was arrested on suspicion of a misdemeanor. As a result, an ISP officer issued a Rule Violation Report and Porter was taken to an MDOC facility, where a disciplinary hearing officer determined he had violated the terms of his ISP. The MDOC’s records department decided that, since Porter’s ISP had been revoked, he was not entitled to have the last four years of his sentence suspended. After appealing the disciplinary action through the MDOC’s three-step grievance procedure, Porter filed a motion for post-conviction relief in state court.

The court found the MDOC had no authority to reinstate a suspended sentence ...

U.S. Sentencing Commission Calls Federal Mandatory Minimums “Excessively Severe”

In a 645-page report prepared by the U.S. Sentencing Commission for Congress, released in October 2011, the Commission found that federal “mandatory minimum” sentences are harsh and unjust – especially in cases where there is no physical harm or threat of physical harm. The study was the first thorough examination of mandatory minimums on the federal level in two decades.

“While there is a spectrum of views on the Commission regarding mandatory minimum penalties, the Commission unanimously believes that certain mandatory minimum penalties apply too broadly, are excessively severe, and are applied inconsistently across the country,” said Commission chairwoman Patti B. Saris, a U.S. District Court Judge in Massachusetts.

The study comprised a review of 73,239 federal criminal cases in fiscal year 2010, of which over one-quarter (27.2%) of the defendants were “convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty.” The vast majority of such convictions involved drug offenses (77.4%), while mandatory minimums also apply to certain federal firearm, identity theft and child sex-related crimes.

The Commission’s report indicated that black offenders are the demographic least likely to obtain relief from mandatory minimum sentences. This should come as no surprise to those familiar with ...

Arkansas Prison Director Suspended by Board of Corrections

Ray Hobbs, director of the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADOC), was suspended without pay for two weeks, starting January 2, 2012, for failing to promptly inform the Board of Corrections about a computer glitch that resulted in hundreds of prisoners being paroled early. A six-month probation period followed his suspension.

According to ADOC spokeswoman Dinah Tyler, the department discovered the problem with its computer system in late 2011.

“The first time we got any inclination that there was a problem was September 28. Then, by October 5, they had a pretty good handle on what was going on with the computer,” Tyler stated. She said the glitch allowed prisoners to accumulate more good conduct time than allowed by law. “There’s supposed to be a cap in the computer that would kick in any time they got above 50% and say ‘no more.’ And that cap, though it was there, wasn’t being used.”

Around 1,123 prisoners were credited for more good conduct time than they were eligible to receive. But for those still in prison and for most of the prisoners released early, that wasn’t a problem.

“All we had to do was go in there and ...

Texas Federal Court Issues Preliminary Injunction Prohibiting Sex Offender Parole Conditions; Case Settles for $52,000

by Matt Clarke

On October 7, 2011, a U.S. District Court issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles (Board) from enforcing onerous sex offender conditions that had been imposed on a parolee who had not been convicted of a sex offense.

Buddy Jene Yeary ...

Federal Court Upholds Maryland Law that Reclassifies Prisoners for Redistricting

by David M. Reutter

On December 23, 2011, a Maryland federal district court three-judge panel upheld a state law that counts prisoners as residents of their legal home address rather than their prison address for redistricting purposes.

For decades, states have used unadjusted census data to set voting districts. The census counts prisoners as residents of the area where their prison is located, even though they cannot vote. This has diluted the voting power of people in areas without a prison while enhancing the political clout of mostly rural prison communities. [See this issue’s cover story].

Following the 2010 decennial Census, Maryland enacted a new redistricting plan in October 2011 for the state’s eight congressional districts. Nine Maryland African-American residents filed a lawsuit that contended the plan violated their rights under Article I, section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and § 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, because the plan diluted African-American voting strength within the state and discriminated against African-Americans. For the same reasons, they also challenged Maryland’s “No Representation Without Population Act” (the Act), 28 U.Md.Code Ann., Art. 24 § 1–111, Election Law (“EL”) § 8–701S ...

Fifth Circuit Holds Mailbox Rule Applies to Legal Mail Rejected Under Bogus Prison Rule

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that legal mail rejected by prison officials under a purported rule that does not exist is still entitled to the “mailbox rule.”

Clifford Medley, a Texas state prisoner, tried to mail his federal habeas corpus petition to the U.S. district court about a week before the one-year AEDPA limitations period would have expired in October 2006. Because federal habeas petitions require a $5.00 filing fee, and because the processing of a withdrawal request from a Texas prisoner’s trust fund account takes several weeks, Medley put a trust fund withdrawal slip in his mailing with a request for prison mail room employees to hold the habeas petition until the trust fund withdrawal was processed so the check could be included.

The mail room instead returned the petition to Medley “with an explanation that the mail room was not permitted to hold the petition pending receipt of the filing fee.” Using Inmate Request Forms, Medley inquired multiple times concerning the proper procedure to have the filing fee sent along with the petition, only to be told that mail may not be sent along with withdrawal slips and that he could have ...

New North Carolina DOC Hospital Promises Better Healthcare for Prisoners

With crowded prisons and an increasing percentage of prisoners age 50 and older, the North Carolina Department of Corrections (NCDOC) opened a $153.7 million medical complex at the Central Prison in Raleigh in November 2011.

The new complex includes a five-story, 167,000-square-foot hospital with 120 inpatient beds and outpatient clinics – making cancer treatment, CT scans and some surgeries available behind prison walls. The complex’s mental health center has an additional 216 inpatient beds, and the entire facility is staffed by more than 550 employees.

NCDOC officials said there was intense pressure to modernize medical care for prisoners due to rising costs, security concerns and overburdened community hospitals.

“We’ll save $300,000 in the first year on chemo [treatment], and that’s going to grow,” stated Dr. Paula Smith, the NCDOC’s chief of health services.

Prisoners over 50 years old represented 6.2 percent of North Carolina’s growing prison population in 2000. Ten years later that demographic nearly doubled to 12 percent, according to NCDOC figures, and older prisoners are prone to higher rates of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and heart problems.

Although the NCDOC will continue to use local hospitals for emergencies, major surgeries ...

Michigan DOC Taser Experiment Touted; Prison Perimeter Patrols to End

Michigan prison officials are proclaiming their experiment to arm guards with Tasers a success. An announced end to round-the-clock patrols of prison perimeters, however, was denounced as a threat to security by the union that represents Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) employees.

The Taser experiment began in December 2011 as a pilot program at the Carson City Correctional Facility, Ionia Correctional Facility, Alger Correctional Facility, the Michigan Reformatory and St. Louis Correctional Facility. It prompted the Human Rights Defense Center, the parent organization of Prison Legal News, to send a letter to MDOC director Daniel Heyns, warning of potential misuse of Tasers by guards. [See: PLN, July 2012, p.40].

Heyns and the Michigan Corrections Organization (MCO), the union that represents over 10,000 state prison employees, have lauded plans to expand the use of Tasers system-wide in the MDOC. In March 2012, Michigan officials ordered 242 Taser X2s, 242 Taser CAM HD recorders and 3,783 Taser cartridges, at an estimated cost of $800,000.

Heyns described the deployment of Tasers to prison guards as “a game changer” in testimony to state lawmakers. “We’re seeing a dramatic drop in the number of assaults,” he said. Prisoners “are going ...

Missouri County Ordered to Present Civil Detainees Before Court within 27 Hours; $75,000 Damages Settlement

A Missouri federal district court has entered a consent decree in a class-action lawsuit that prohibits county officials from holding people detained for more than 27 hours, excluding weekends and holidays, on a civil body attachment or other civil process related to child support unless they have seen a judge ...

Organizations Submit Letters to FCC Urging Action on Prison Phone Rates

On October 23, 2012, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), which publishes Prison Legal News, submitted a joint letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging action on the “Wright Petition,” which asks the FCC to place caps on interstate prison phone rates to make them more affordable.

The Wright Petition has been pending before the FCC since 2003. Sixty criminal justice organizations signed on to the joint letter, including the American Friends Service Committee, Correctional Association of New York, National CURE, Southern Center for Human Rights, Justice Policy Institute, Prison Policy Initiative and The Sentencing Project.

The letter described problems with the unregulated prison phone industry and highlighted the “commission” kickback system that drives up the cost of prison telephone calls in most states. According to HRDC’s letter, some consumers pay more than $17.00 for a 15-minute interstate prison phone call; in many cases it costs more to accept a collect call from a prisoner in another state than it does to place a call to China.

On November 5, 2012 the Center for Media Justice (CMJ) submitted another joint letter to the FCC asking for action on the Wright Petition. This time 96 groups concerned with ...

West Memphis Three Released, but Justice Not Served and Questions Remain

In August 2011, a trio of Arkansas state prisoners, widely known as the West Memphis Three, walked out of prison after serving more than 18 years for a brutal triple homicide they did not commit. They were not exonerated, however, and are still seeking justice.

In May 1993 the bodies of three 8-year-old Cub Scouts, Christopher Byers, Michael Moore and Stevie Branch, were found in a drainage ditch near West Memphis, Arkansas. They had been stripped naked, bound and murdered. Three local teenagers, Michael Wayne “Damien” Echols, 18, Charles Jason Baldwin, 16, and Jessie L. Misskelley, Jr., 17, were arrested for the crime. Echols was considered a suspect because he wore black clothing, liked heavy metal music and had an interest in the occult.

Misskelley, who had a low I.Q., allegedly confessed to participating in the murders and implicated Baldwin and Echols. However, his “confession” was obtained during an almost 12-hour-long police interrogation that included leading and coaching by detectives, and contained obvious inconsistencies. He later recanted and refused to testify against his co-defendants.

Prosecutors alleged the murders were part of a Satantic ritual and claimed that Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were part of a Satanic cult. Despite a ...

Oregon Re-Sells Unused Execution Drugs

On November 22, 2011, death penalty opponents cheered Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber’s decision to halt the scheduled December 6, 2011 execution of Gary Haugen, and to impose a moratorium on all executions for the duration of his term. Kitzhaber called the death penalty “compromised and inequitable.” [See: PLN, June 2012, p.16].
However, opponents of capital punishment later cried foul after Oregon moved to re-sell its execution drugs so they may be used to end another prisoner’s life.

From 2007 until Haugen’s scrubbed execution date, Oregon spent an estimated $1.3 million trying to put him to death. The largest portion of that amount was the $853,083.82 cost of his legal defense and appeal, according to the Office of Public Defense Services.

Marion County Deputy District Attorney Don Abar claimed that excluding law enforcement expenses, prosecutors spent $150,000 to $200,000 to put Haugen on death row. The Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) then racked up $128,050.49 defending his appeal and another $117,487.19 to advise prison officials, prepare for the execution and on related matters, according to DOJ spokeswoman Kate Medema.

Of the $57,573.64 that the Oregon Department ...

Philadelphia Women Prisoners Sue for Being Housed with a Man

Four women have sued the City and County of Philadelphia, its prison system, several of its divisions and officials, and Prison Health Services (PHS, now known as Corizon) for forcing them to share a jail cell with a man for over a year.

Jovanie Saldana, 23, was taken to the Riverside Correctional Facility (RCF), a women’s prison, in June 2010 after being charged with robbery and other offenses. “Saldana’s arrest papers clearly stated he was a man,” the four women said in their 81-page complaint, filed by Philadelphia attorney Brian F. Humble on November 9, 2011.

Over the next 14 months, prisoners Jabrina Barnett, Yazmin Gonzales, Katrina Chamorro and Maria Cachola claimed they endured sexual harassment and groping. They said Saldana, a male-to-female transsexual, subjected them to “unwanted stares and sexual leering,” breast touching and “repeated sexual overtures ... in the form of commenting about the size and color of [the women’s] nipples.” Barnett alleged that “Saldana physically assaulted her by slamming her into the wall of cell 17 when Ms. Barnett complained about Saldana touching her breasts.”

RCF employees had contact with Saldana that included “daily contact for more than 425 days, 19 strip searches, two medical ...

California: Jail Nurse Receives $703,957 in Retaliation Suit Against County, PHS

On December 15, 2011, following a three-week trial, a federal jury in San Francisco awarded Freddie M. Davis, formerly employed at Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail, $528,957 in damages stemming from retaliation she experienced after she and other nurses complained about mistreatment from a supervisor.

The jury found ...

Puerto Rico DOC Fires 97 Guards, Suspends More Than 100

Puerto Rico’s revolving door of corrupt prison guards is spinning a little faster.
In October 2011, the U.S. commonwealth’s Department of Corrections announced plans to terminate 97 guards and suspend more than 100 others due to illegal drug use, contraband smuggling or unjustified absences from their jobs.

Sheila Padin, spokeswoman for the Puerto Rico DOC, said the firings and suspensions were the result of an ongoing investigation within the department. Jesus Gonzalez Cruz, the recently-appointed Corrections Secretary, notified the guards by letter of their termination or suspension, according to Padin.

The disciplinary sanctions shouldn’t affect prison operations, she said, since 325 new guards had graduated from the Puerto Rico DOC academy in June 2011 and another 260 guards were expected to graduate in the near future.

In April 2012, a Puerto Rico prison transport guard was found guilty in the drowning deaths of eight prisoners when their van drove into floodwaters. [See: PLN, Oct. 2012, p.49].

Source: Associated Press

News in Brief

Afghanistan: On June 7, 2012, 31 prisoners escaped from a prison in Sar-e-Pul province after Taliban fighters blew a hole in the side of the facility. Three prisoners were killed and 28 wounded in a resulting gun battle with guards. Sixteen prisoners were captured shortly after the break-out; the others remained at large. Prior mass prison escapes occurred in Afghanistan in April 2011 (involving 500 prisoners at the Sarposa Prison) and in 2008 (1,200 prisoners, also at Sarposa).

Arizona: Approximately 300 prisoners at the Arizona State Prison in Kingman staged a peaceful walkout on June 23, 2012, citing objections to the DOC’s grooming requirements. A prison official at the privately-run facility, which is operated by Management and Training Corp., spoke with the protesting prisoners, who then returned to their dorm in the Hualapai unit.

Arizona: On August 14, 2012, Betty Smithey, 69, the longest-serving female prisoner in the nation, was granted parole and released. Smithey had served 49 years for the 1963 murder of a 15-month-old girl she was babysitting. Originally sentenced to life without parole, her sentence was reduced to 48 years to life by Governor Jan Brewer. “It’s wonderful driving down the road and not ...


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