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Prison Legal News: June, 2012

Issue PDF
Volume 23, Number 6

In this issue:

  1. God’s Own Warden: If you ever find yourself inside Louisiana’s Angola prison, Burl Cain will make sure you find Jesus – or regret ever crossing his path (p 1)
  2. Angola: A Prison Passion Play (p 10)
  3. From the Editor (p 12)
  4. No Budget Cuts for Federal Prisons (p 14)
  5. Death Sentences, Executions Remain at Low Levels (p 16)
  6. Dallas County Passes Jail Inspections ... Finally (p 17)
  7. Michigan Sex Offender’s Suicide Results in Changes to Sex Offender Registry Law (p 18)
  8. California Lifers: Deaths Exceed Parole Releases (p 18)
  9. Background Checks that Bar Employment of Ex-offenders May Violate Civil Rights (p 20)
  10. Class-Action Settlement Cures Constitutional Violations at Pennsylvania Prison (p 22)
  11. Hawaii ACLU Files Suit on Behalf of Women Who Want to Marry Prisoners (p 22)
  12. Wrongful Convictions Prove Costly, Especially for the Wrongly Convicted (p 24)
  13. Guard Who Identified Over 100 Prison Rioters Pleads Guilty to Contraband Charge (p 24)
  14. Oregon Increases Sex Offender Registration Requirements (p 26)
  15. Washington Prison Video Surveillance Recordings Exempt from Disclosure Under Public Records Act (p 26)
  16. Florida Closes Oldest Boy’s School, Best Known for Abusive Past (p 28)
  17. Federal Investigation, Prosecution Targets Indiana Sheriff’s Officers (p 30)
  18. Failure to Advise Defendant of Ineligibility for Early Release Credits Renders Guilty Plea Invalid (p 30)
  19. CCA Anti-Prison Rape Shareholder Resolution Fails to Pass (p 32)
  20. Ninth Circuit Rules that Washington DOC Religious Contractor Not a “State Actor” (p 33)
  21. Ohio Wrongful Conviction Results in $2.59 Million Settlement (p 34)
  22. Ninth Circuit Holds No Due Process Right Created by California’s Parole Scheme (p 34)
  23. Arizona Jails Refuse to Incarcerate Some Offenders (p 35)
  24. The Last Gasp: The Rise and Fall of the American Gas Chamber, by Scott Christianson (University of California Press, 2011). (p 36)
  25. California Study Finds State Prison Overcrowding Driven by County Policy Decisions, Not Violent Crime Rates (p 36)
  26. Pennsylvania County Prisons Not Reporting Critical Incidents (p 38)
  27. Former BOP Guard Convicted, Sentenced in Murder-for-Hire Case (p 38)
  28. Iowa Supreme Court Holds Billing for Fraudulent Prisoner Phone Calls Not a State Law Violation (p 40)
  29. No “Strike” Under PLRA When Some Claims are Heard on the Merits (p 40)
  30. Tenth Circuit Voids Albuquerque’s Attempt to Ban Sex Offenders from Libraries (p 42)
  31. $47,500 Awarded to Massachusetts Prisoner Held in Segregation Without Hearing (p 42)
  32. Second BOP Guard Convicted in Connection with Prisoner’s Murder (p 44)
  33. Seven Florida Prison Guards Arrested (p 44)
  34. Washington Prisoners Have No Right to Inspect Records Under Public Records Act (p 45)
  35. Pennsylvania Prison Guard Convicted in Drug Probe, Testifies Against Coworkers (p 46)
  36. Judge, Not Jury, Must Resolve Questions about Administrative Exhaustion (p 46)
  37. $500,000 Settlement in Pennsylvania Jail Prisoner’s Medical-Related Death (p 47)
  38. ACLU Report Proves Smart Criminal Justice Policy Reform is Possible (p 48)
  39. News in Brief (p 50)

God’s Own Warden: If you ever find yourself inside Louisiana’s Angola prison, Burl Cain will make sure you find Jesus – or regret ever crossing his path

God’s Own Warden: If you ever find yourself inside Louisiana’s Angola prison,
Burl Cain will make sure you find Jesus – or regret ever crossing his path

by James Ridgeway

It was a chilly December morning when I got to the gates of Angola prison,1 and I was ...

Angola: A Prison Passion Play

by John E. Dannenberg

The New Testament recounts Jesus’ plight as a prisoner: “Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” (Matthew 25:36).
Spurred on by Bible-banging Warden Burl Cain of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at ...

From the Editor

For the past 22 years, PLN has been at the forefront of reporting on the gouging of prisoners’ families by prisons, jails and the telecommunications industry as prisoncrats and corporations profit by charging families exorbitant phone rates for the ability to communicate with their incarcerated loved ones. PLN’s groundbreaking ...

No Budget Cuts for Federal Prisons

by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella

In the midst of an epic budget battle that could transform the American landscape for decades to come, the White House and Republicans in Congress appear to agree on one point: Federal prisons need more money.

With more people and a higher percentage of ...

Death Sentences, Executions Remain at Low Levels

According to a report released by the Death Penalty Information Center last December, there were 78 new death sentences imposed in 2011, down significantly from 104 in 2010 and the fewest new death sentences since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.

The number of new death sentences reached its peak ...

Dallas County Passes Jail Inspections ... Finally

It took eight tries over seven years, but the nation’s seventh-largest jail system, located in Dallas County, Texas, has finally started passing inspections by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS), most recently in March 2012.

Adam Munoz, executive director of the TCJS, announced the first successful inspection of ...

Michigan Sex Offender’s Suicide Results in Changes to Sex Offender Registry Law

by Matt Clarke

When 17-year-old Justin Fawcett admitted to having consensual sex with a 14-year-old student at the same high school he attended in West Bloomfield, Michigan, he probably never thought that that youthful dalliance would lead to his death, but it did.

Justin and three other teens who separately ...

California Lifers: Deaths Exceed Parole Releases

by John E. Dannenberg

Between 2000 and 2010, 775 California lifers died in prison while 674 were granted parole. Those statistics, released by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) pursuant to a public records request, reflect the grim reality that parole-eligible lifers are more likely to die in ...

Background Checks that Bar Employment of Ex-offenders May Violate Civil Rights

A report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) released in March 2011 concluded that the growth in background checks by employers, combined with a lack of enforcement of civil rights and consumer protections for an estimated 65 million people with criminal records, subjects ex-offenders to a lifetime of social ...

Class-Action Settlement Cures Constitutional Violations at Pennsylvania Prison

A settlement has been reached in a class-action lawsuit challenging conditions at Pennsylvania’s Northumberland County Prison (NCP). Since the suit was filed in February 2008 on behalf of 12 prisoners by the Lewisburg Prison Project, NCP officials had disputed claims that the 134-year-old facility was unsafe and failed to ...

Hawaii ACLU Files Suit on Behalf of Women Who Want to Marry Prisoners

On May 15, 2012, the ACLU of Hawaii filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing the state Department of Public Safety (DPS) of unlawful discrimination by prohibiting four women from marrying Hawaii prisoners housed at a mainland facility.

According to the complaint, the women submitted multiple applications to wed their ...

Wrongful Convictions Prove Costly, Especially for the Wrongly Convicted

by Matt Clarke

On June 6, 2011, the Better Government Association (BGA) and the Center on Wrongful Convictions (CWC) at Northwestern University School of Law released a joint report on the cost of wrongful convictions. The report, which examined 85 wrongful convictions in Illinois since the advent of modern DNA ...

Guard Who Identified Over 100 Prison Rioters Pleads Guilty to Contraband Charge

A Kentucky prison guard who identified more than 100 prisoners who allegedly participated in a 2009 riot was later arrested for bringing contraband into the same facility where the riot occurred. PLN previously reported on the riot at the Northpoint Training Center, which resulted in the destruction of numerous buildings ...

Oregon Increases Sex Offender Registration Requirements

The State of Oregon posts online, in a publicly-accessible registry, information related to around 700 “predatory” or sexually violent sex offenders. A bill introduced in the state legislature in 2011 would have increased the number of sex offenders listed online to more than 14,000. That legislation failed to pass ...

Washington Prison Video Surveillance Recordings Exempt from Disclosure Under Public Records Act

by Mike Brodheim

In an unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeals of the State of Washington affirmed a trial court’s order dismissing an action filed by a state prisoner who alleged that the Department of Corrections (DOC) had violated the Public Records Act (PRA) when it refused to release ...

Florida Closes Oldest Boy’s School, Best Known for Abusive Past

Despite a reputation for brutality, the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida remained in operation until budget cuts forced its closure in June 2011. The facility, which opened in 1900 as the Florida State Reform School, housed youthful offenders ages 13 to 21. While the public came ...

Federal Investigation, Prosecution Targets Indiana Sheriff’s Officers

Several Lake County, Indiana Sheriff’s Department employees were the subject of a federal investigation into a gun-running scheme that resulted in criminal charges.

Lake County Sheriff John Buncich placed six staff members on administrative leave and stripped them of their law enforcement powers in May 2011 after they were ...

Failure to Advise Defendant of Ineligibility for Early Release Credits Renders Guilty Plea Invalid

A trial court’s failure to advise a defendant of his or her ineligibility for early release credits renders a guilty plea unknowing and involuntary, the Division Three Court of Appeals for the State of Washington held in an unpublished ruling.

Michael Duke Coombes pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. Under ...

CCA Anti-Prison Rape Shareholder Resolution Fails to Pass

As previously reported in Prison Legal News, PLN associate editor Alex Friedmann, who owns a small amount of stock in Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), filed a shareholder resolution with the company in November 2011. The resolution requested that CCA issue reports every six months on its efforts to reduce ...

Ninth Circuit Rules that Washington DOC Religious Contractor Not a “State Actor”

Congregation Pidyon Shevuyim, N.A., a private Jewish organization that contracted with the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC), may not be sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 or the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held, as ...

Ohio Wrongful Conviction Results in $2.59 Million Settlement

On April 25, 2011, Raymond D. Towler, 53, received a settlement of $2,592,571 after serving almost 29 years for a rape he didn’t commit. The award included a $600,000 annuity to provide ongoing monthly payments plus a $1.91 million lump sum payment; $78,800 of ...

Ninth Circuit Holds No Due Process Right Created by California’s Parole Scheme

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has decisively dismissed any lingering hopes that the federal courts might continue to review denials of parole to California prisoners, in order to determine whether such denials were supported by “some evidence” of the prisoner’s current dangerousness as required by state law.

Echoing ...

Arizona Jails Refuse to Incarcerate Some Offenders

In 2007, Glendale, Arizona resident Robert Ortis, 41, had an appetizer and a few drinks at a business lunch. Driving from the lunch to his nephew’s house, he began to feel weak and turned red. He recognized a high blood pressure event and was able to get off the ...

The Last Gasp: The Rise and Fall of the American Gas Chamber, by Scott Christianson (University of California Press, 2011).

The Last Gasp: The Rise and Fall of the American Gas Chamber, by Scott Christianson
(University of California Press, 2011).

344 pages, $18.95 paperback

Book review by Julie Etter

Scott Christianson’s new book, released in paperback in July 2011, continues the author’s prolific examination of the history ...

California Study Finds State Prison Overcrowding Driven by County Policy Decisions, Not Violent Crime Rates

A June 2011 study by Santa Clara University criminal law professor W. David Ball examines the extent to which overcrowding in California’s prisons is a function of decisions made at the county level about how to deal with crime. Ball’s report compiles data from a ten-year period (2000-2009 ...

Pennsylvania County Prisons Not Reporting Critical Incidents

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PDOC) requires county prisons to submit monthly “extraordinary occurrence” reports as part of the department’s duty to inspect local lock-ups and identify deficiencies. However, the accuracy of the self-reported data has been faulty in some cases and many county prisons fail to file the ...

Former BOP Guard Convicted, Sentenced in Murder-for-Hire Case

Michael Eugene Rudkin, 41, a former BOP guard employed at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Danbury, Connecticut, apparently did not learn his lesson following his first conviction.

In 2008, Rudkin pleaded guilty to engaging in oral sex with a female prisoner at FCI Danbury in exchange for candy, cigarettes ...

Iowa Supreme Court Holds Billing for Fraudulent Prisoner Phone Calls Not a State Law Violation

On October 14, 2011 the Iowa Supreme Court held that a prison telephone company did not commit a “cramming” violation by improperly billing a third party for fraudulent collect calls made by a prisoner.

Evercom Systems, Inc. provides phone services to more than 2,900 detention facilities nationwide, including the ...

No “Strike” Under PLRA When Some Claims are Heard on the Merits

A prisoner does not incur a “strike” under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) unless his or her suit is dismissed entirely as frivolous, malicious or for failure to state a claim, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held on November 2, 2010. On remand, the ...

Tenth Circuit Voids Albuquerque’s Attempt to Ban Sex Offenders from Libraries

In a case of first impression, on January 20, 2012 the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court’s judgment invalidating an ordinance of the City of Albuquerque, New Mexico that prohibited registered sex offenders from entering the City’s public libraries.

The district court had granted summary ...

$47,500 Awarded to Massachusetts Prisoner Held in Segregation Without Hearing

On January 27, 2012, a Massachusetts U.S. District Court awarded $47,500 to a prisoner for due process violations that resulted in 375 days of solitary confinement.

Massachusetts state prisoner Albert Ford filed a civil rights action alleging that his placement in the Department Disciplinary Unit (DDU) at MCI-Cedar ...

Second BOP Guard Convicted in Connection with Prisoner’s Murder

A second federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) guard who helped arrange an assault on a prisoner that resulted in the prisoner’s death has been convicted of federal civil rights violations.

On July 8, 2010, Michael Kennedy was found guilty of violating the civil rights of Richard Delano, a former ...

Seven Florida Prison Guards Arrested

Seven Florida state prison guards, employed at two facilities at opposite ends of the state, have been charged with criminal misconduct in unrelated incidents.

The first four arrests occurred on June 10, 2011, when U.S. Marshals arrested South Florida Reception Center (SFRC) guards Alexander McQueen, 30, Guruba Griffin, 31 ...

Washington Prisoners Have No Right to Inspect Records Under Public Records Act

Prisoners who request records from the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) under the Public Records Act (PRA) do not have a right to inspect records without cost, the Court of Appeals, Division II held in a corrected ruling entered on March 4, 2011. The appellate court’s opinion joins a ...

Pennsylvania Prison Guard Convicted in Drug Probe, Testifies Against Coworkers

Former Luzerne County Correctional Facility guard John Gonda, known as “G-Unit,” was the subject of an investigation called Operation Avalanche after authorities received tips he was selling “large quantities [of drugs] in the Wilkes-Barre area.” The probe targeted the Outlaws Motorcycle Club, and Gonda was among 22 people charged in ...

Judge, Not Jury, Must Resolve Questions about Administrative Exhaustion

Factual disputes surrounding whether a prisoner properly exhausted administrative remedies under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) prior to filing suit must be resolved by the court, not a jury, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held on July 26, 2011. In so ruling, the Second ...

$500,000 Settlement in Pennsylvania Jail Prisoner’s Medical-Related Death

A $500,000 settlement has been reached in a federal lawsuit involving the death of a prisoner at Pennsylvania’s Fayette County Prison. Terry Johnson, 48, died in his cell in February 2007 after he was denied medical care.

The suit, filed by Johnson’s wife, Lorraine, named several prison ...

ACLU Report Proves Smart Criminal Justice Policy Reform is Possible

by David M. Reutter

The American Civil Liberties Union released a report in August 2011 that calls for reforming the U.S. criminal justice system. The report makes recommendations for systematic reforms, front-end reforms and back-end reforms; it reviews policy changes and their results in six states that have successfully ...

News in Brief

California: Saul “Scrappy” Perez, 23, and William Lloyd Coats, 45, incarcerated at the Glenn County jail, were charged with drug-related offenses after being caught smoking pot in the jail’s exercise yard on January 24, 2012. A guard noticed unusual activity near the toilet area on the yard, and a ...