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Prison Legal News: January, 2014

Issue PDF
Volume 25, Number 1

In this issue:

  1. American Apartheid: Why Scandinavian Prisons Are Superior (p 1)
  2. Sweden’s Shrinking Prison Population (p 9)
  3. From the Editor (p 10)
  4. Mangaung and Beyond: Private Prison Exemplifies South Africa’s Criminal Justice Woes (p 12)
  5. Hidden Agenda Fuels Challenge to Pivotal Death Penalty Case (p 14)
  6. Seventh Circuit: Lifetime Supervision in Pornography Case Set Aside (p 16)
  7. Pennsylvania Woman Jailed for Failure to Pay Parking Tickets (p 16)
  8. Controversy, Litigation and Performance Problems Plague Private Probation Services (p 18)
  9. Task Force Linked to Harsh Sentencing Laws and Private Prison Firms Disbands Following Public Scrutiny, Boycott (p 22)
  10. East Mississippi Prison Nightmare (p 24)
  11. Massachusetts Supreme Court: 90 Days in Segregation on Awaiting Action Status without Hearing Violates Due Process (p 26)
  12. Washington Defendant Improperly Denied Transcript at State Expense (p 27)
  13. Programs Proliferate for Incarcerated Veterans (p 28)
  14. Arizona TV Reporter Blames Prisoners for Citizens’ Lack of Healthcare (p 30)
  15. Study: Risk of Murder, Overdose and Suicide Higher for Recently Released Jail Prisoners in New York City (p 31)
  16. California Parole Board Agrees to Implement Policy to Fix Terms at Lifers’ Initial Hearings (p 32)
  17. How Actions by Oklahoma Governor’s Staff Led to Weakened State Justice Reforms (p 34)
  18. Failure to Protect New Jersey Jail Detainee Leads to Drastic Bail Reduction (p 37)
  19. Top Texas Judge Breaks the Law but Gets Special Treatment (p 38)
  20. New York Prisoner Awarded Almost $16 Million Due to Poor Medical Treatment (p 38)
  21. Director of Victims’ Rights Group Sent to Prison for Embezzlement (p 40)
  22. Study Finds Prisoners Inappropriately Using Topical Antibiotics (p 40)
  23. Connecticut Guards File Grievances over Efforts to Stem Super Bowl Absenteeism (p 42)
  24. PLN Challenges Postcard-only Policy at Florida Jail (p 42)
  25. Shareholder Resolutions Seek to Lower Phone Rates at Private Prisons (p 44)
  26. Unwanted Reprieve from Execution Upheld by Oregon Supreme Court (p 44)
  27. Massachusetts Supreme Court: Failure to Register Guilty Plea Vacated (p 45)
  28. No Immunity for Detainee’s Death Due to Alcohol Withdrawal; $1.23 Million Settlement on Remand (p 46)
  29. Tenth Circuit: FRAP 4(b) Clock Commences Upon Entry in Public Docket (p 46)
  30. FCC Rate Caps on Prison Phone Calls to Impact Nevada DOC’s Budget (p 47)
  31. SC Supreme Court Reverses Furtick; No Liberty Interest in Opportunity to Earn Sentence-Reduction Credits (p 48)
  32. Religious Diet Qualified Immunity Test Outlined by Seventh Circuit (p 48)
  33. Multiple Convictions, Single Proceeding Triggers Alaska Lifetime Sex Offender Registration (p 49)
  34. Oregon: Life Sentence for Murder Unconstitutional During Eight-Month Period in 1999 (p 50)
  35. Seventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Prisoner's Law Library Access Claim (p 50)
  36. Ninth Circuit: Budgetary Constraints May Excuse Deliberate Indifference to Prisoner’s Serious Medical Needs; En Banc Review Granted (p 52)
  37. Tenth Circuit Orders Foreseeability Jury Determination for Detention by New Mexico DOC Employees (p 52)
  38. Ninth Circuit: No Summary Judgment on Claim of Excessive Use of Pepper Spray (p 54)
  39. Oregon: Jury Trials Required When Prosecutors Treat Misdemeanors as Violations (p 54)
  40. Res Judicata Doesn't Bar Ohio Post-release Control Challenge (p 55)
  41. Hawaii: Incarceration is Good Cause for Failure to Appear; Bail Forfeiture Set Aside (p 55)
  42. News in Brief (p 56)

American Apartheid: Why Scandinavian Prisons Are Superior

“Open” prisons, in which detainees are allowed to live like regular citizens, should be a model for the U.S.

by Doran Larson

It’s a postcard-perfect day on Suomenlinna Island, in Helsinki’s South Harbor. Warm for the first week of June, day trippers mix with Russian, Dutch and ...

Sweden’s Shrinking Prison Population

Sweden’s prison population has seen such a sharp drop in recent years that the nation’s prison service announced in November 2013 that it had closed four correctional facilities and a remand center.

Prisons in Aby, Haja, Batshagen and Kristianstad were closed in 2013; two will likely be sold ...

From the Editor

Welcome to the first issue of PLN for 2014. If you have not donated to our annual fundraiser, please do so now; it is not too late and we need your support to continue our advocacy work on issues like the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, for which we do ...

Mangaung and Beyond: Private Prison Exemplifies South Africa’s Criminal Justice Woes

In recent months a battle has erupted at Mangaung prison in South Africa. Mangaung, located near the city of Bloemfontein, is one of the country’s two privately-operated correctional facilities. Managed by British-based G4S, which bills itself as the “world’s largest security” company, Mangaung reflects a troubled criminal justice system littered ...

Hidden Agenda Fuels Challenge to Pivotal Death Penalty Case

Anthony Porter, the exonerated death row prisoner whose jubilant release from prison in February 1999 was the catalyst for abolishing the death penalty in Illinois, is back in the news after living in relative obscurity for years. A lot has happened since reporters covered Porter’s first steps to freedom ...

Seventh Circuit: Lifetime Supervision in Pornography Case Set Aside

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a “supervision for life” provision imposed by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin when defendant Nicolai D. Quinn was sentenced to 97 months imprisonment for possession of child pornography.

Both the Sentencing Guidelines and statute under which ...

Pennsylvania Woman Jailed for Failure to Pay Parking Tickets

The increased use of jail for debtors resulted in a Pennsylvania woman being imprisoned for not paying parking ticket fines.

“It was a short and sweet hearing,” stated Lancaster County Constable Karl Salisbury. “The judge said, ‘you owe $2,300 collateral. You’re being committed to Lancaster County Prison.’”

Salisbury ...

Controversy, Litigation and Performance Problems Plague Private Probation Services

by David M. Reutter and Alex Friedmann

Defendants who are placed on probation and ordered to pay a growing array of fines and fees levied by local governments facing budget deficits, combined with additional fees charged by private companies hired to provide probation services, are increasingly being squeezed into burdensome ...

Task Force Linked to Harsh Sentencing Laws and Private Prison Firms Disbands Following Public Scrutiny, Boycott

A national campaign to shut down a quasi-governmental task force backed by powerful corporate interests, which has promoted harsher sentences, prison privatization and controversial “stand your ground” gun rights legislation, was successful thanks to public pressure and a boycott started by the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The American Legislative Exchange ...

East Mississippi Prison Nightmare

On May 30, 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law Center and law office of civil rights attorney Elizabeth Alexander filed an 83-page complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, seeking class-action relief for mentally ill prisoners confined in “barbaric and horrifying ...

Massachusetts Supreme Court: 90 Days in Segregation on Awaiting Action Status without Hearing Violates Due Process

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has ruled that prisoners held in segregated confinement on “awaiting action” status are entitled to due process protections, and such prisoners may not be kept in segregation longer than 90 days without a hearing.

The Court’s November 27, 2012 decision resolved a civil ...

Washington Defendant Improperly Denied Transcript at State Expense

The Washington State Supreme Court held in a November 8, 2012 en banc ruling that an indigent defendant was improperly denied a jury voir dire transcript.

When appealing his convictions for first-degree murder, second-degree murder and two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm, Merle William Harvey requested a jury ...

Programs Proliferate for Incarcerated Veterans

An increasing number of criminal justice programs are being made available to military veterans who have been charged with or convicted of crimes, including specialized prison and jail housing units and court diversion programs.

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) based on 2004 data ...

Arizona TV Reporter Blames Prisoners for Citizens’ Lack of Healthcare

When Lynette Barrett was searching for someone to blame for her husband’s battle with liver disease and his long wait for a transplant, a TV reporter was quick to point his finger at America’s favorite scapegoat: prisoners.

Morgan Loew, a reporter for KPHO in Phoenix, Arizona, concluded during ...

Study: Risk of Murder, Overdose and Suicide Higher for Recently Released Jail Prisoners in New York City

A study by researchers with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) supports reforms long urged by prisoner advocates: more mental health and substance abuse treatment, and less incarceration.

After studying over 155,200 people released from New York City jails between 2001 and 2005, the ...

California Parole Board Agrees to Implement Policy to Fix Terms at Lifers’ Initial Hearings

by John E. Dannenberg

On December 16, 2013, the California Board of Parole Hearings (Board) and life-sentenced state prisoner Roy Butler entered into a settlement agreement wherein the Board agreed to fix base and adjusted base terms (guidelines for the minimum amount of time that should be served) for all ...

How Actions by Oklahoma Governor’s Staff Led to Weakened State Justice Reforms

by Clifton Adcock, Oklahoma Watch*

Behind-the-scenes moves by Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin’s senior staff members helped lead to a severe weakening of a program designed to cut the state’s high incarceration rates and save taxpayers more than $200 million over a decade, according to interviews and records obtained ...

Failure to Protect New Jersey Jail Detainee Leads to Drastic Bail Reduction

A New Jersey man held in jail on charges of aggravated assault had his bail reduced from $500,000 to $15,000 after a beating by other prisoners left him confined to a wheelchair.

Joshua A. Maldonado, 20, was assaulted in the Cumberland County Jail in November 2012. After the ...

Top Texas Judge Breaks the Law but Gets Special Treatment

Sharon Keller is the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals – the state’s highest court for criminal cases. In April 2010, Keller was fined $100,000 after it was discovered that she had failed to report a total of $3.8 million in personal earnings and property ...

New York Prisoner Awarded Almost $16 Million Due to Poor Medical Treatment

In March 2012, a New York state prisoner was awarded $15.7 million after being left a quadriplegic due to inadequate medical care. The judgment was entered by a New York Court of Claims which found that a prison physician had failed to evaluate or order further tests when prisoner ...

Director of Victims’ Rights Group Sent to Prison for Embezzlement

A Pennsylvania federal district court has sentenced a woman to two years in prison for stealing money from a victims’ rights organization she headed.

Between June 2006 and June 2008, Mary Beth Semerod, now 59, stole $205,883.52 from the Rape & Victim Assistance Center in Schuylkill County while she served as the Center’s executive director. Semerod was dismissed from her position in October 2008 and the Center closed in 2009. She reportedly used the embezzled funds to pay department store bills.

A federal grand jury indicted Semerod in October 2010 on a charge of theft from a program that receives federal funding; she pleaded guilty in November 2011 and ...

Study Finds Prisoners Inappropriately Using Topical Antibiotics

by David M. Reutter

Research into the use of topical antibiotics in correctional facilities found that prisoners frequently use antibiotics for reasons inconsistent with their recommended purpose.

A two-year study of 822 New York state prisoners was presented at the 39th Annual Educational Conference and International Meeting of the Association ...

Connecticut Guards File Grievances over Efforts to Stem Super Bowl Absenteeism

Connecticut prison guards filed almost 100 grievances over temporary changes in work rules intended to reduce the number of guards calling in sick on Super Bowl XLVI, which pitted the New York Giants against the New England Patriots.

According to then-Department of Correction Commissioner Leo Arnone, requiring guards to produce ...

PLN Challenges Postcard-only Policy at Florida Jail

On December 17, 2013, Prison Legal News filed suit in federal court against St. Lucie County, Florida Sheriff Ken J. Mascara; the lawsuit alleges unconstitutional censorship based on a policy at the county jail that prohibits prisoners from receiving letters, books and magazines. Aside from legal mail, the policy dictates ...

Shareholder Resolutions Seek to Lower Phone Rates at Private Prisons

On November 26, 2013, shareholder resolutions were filed with Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and The GEO Group, Inc. – the nation’s two largest for-profit prison companies; the resolutions seek to reduce the high cost of phone calls made by prisoners at CCA and GEO facilities nationwide.

Prison phone rates ...

Unwanted Reprieve from Execution Upheld by Oregon Supreme Court

As previously reported in PLN, Oregon death row prisoner Gary Haugen filed a legal challenge to Governor John Kitzhaber’s November 2011 decision to impose a moratorium on the state’s death penalty, which had the effect of granting Haugen a temporary reprieve from execution. [See: PLN, June 2013, p ...

Massachusetts Supreme Court: Failure to Register Guilty Plea Vacated

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held on November 19, 2012 that a sex offender did not violate the state’s registration statute and should have been permitted to withdraw his guilty plea after being charged with failure to register.

Massachusetts’ sex offender registry law requires level 2 and level ...

No Immunity for Detainee’s Death Due to Alcohol Withdrawal; $1.23 Million Settlement on Remand

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held on November 20, 2012 that a Michigan county and two jail guards were not entitled to qualified immunity for a female detainee’s death due to severe alcohol withdrawal.

Brenda Sue Smith, 37, was booked into the Lenawee County jail on a parole ...

Tenth Circuit: FRAP 4(b) Clock Commences Upon Entry in Public Docket

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a judgment must be entered on a district court’s publicly accessible criminal docket to commence the 14-day time limit in which a defendant may file a notice of appeal.

Francisco Mendoza pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiring to distribute methamphetamine ...

FCC Rate Caps on Prison Phone Calls to Impact Nevada DOC’s Budget

The rate caps recently imposed on interstate (long distance) prison phone calls by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) signal much-needed financial relief for prisoners and their families; however, they will also leave an estimated $650,000 gap in the 2014 budget for the Nevada Department of Corrections.

Due to the ...

SC Supreme Court Reverses Furtick; No Liberty Interest in Opportunity to Earn Sentence-Reduction Credits

The South Carolina Supreme Court held in late 2012 that the Administrative Law Court (ALC) may not summarily dismiss a prisoner’s appeal of a disciplinary conviction “solely on the basis that it involves the loss of the opportunity to earn sentence-related credits. Instead, the ALC must also consider whether ...

Religious Diet Qualified Immunity Test Outlined by Seventh Circuit

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that when determining whether a prison official is entitled to qualified immunity for refusing a prisoner’s request for a religious diet, the district court must determine whether the official used the tenets of the religion to deny the request or used ...

Multiple Convictions, Single Proceeding Triggers Alaska Lifetime Sex Offender Registration

The Alaska Supreme Court has held that the state’s lifetime sex offender registration requirement for multiple sex offenses applies to multiple convictions arising from a single criminal proceeding.

The Alaska Sex Offender Registration Act (ASORA), Alaska Stat. § 12.63.020(a)(1)(B), requires a person “convicted of ... two ...

Oregon: Life Sentence for Murder Unconstitutional During Eight-Month Period in 1999

The Oregon Court of Appeals has held that for crimes committed between February 17, 1999 and October 23, 1999 (aka “the McLain window”), the only permissible sentence for a murder conviction was 300 months in prison followed by lifetime post-release supervision.

From 1995 until February 17, 1999, the statutory punishment ...

Seventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Prisoner's Law Library Access Claim

Illinois state prisoner Brian Burd filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint for damages in 2010, alleging that officials at the Sheridan Correctional Center had denied him reasonable access to the facility’s law library; consequently, he was unable to research and timely file a motion to withdraw his ...

Ninth Circuit: Budgetary Constraints May Excuse Deliberate Indifference to Prisoner’s Serious Medical Needs; En Banc Review Granted

On January 7, 2013, a divided Ninth Circuit panel held that a prison employee, alleged to be deliberately indifferent to a prisoner’s serious medical needs, can avoid liability for damages by establishing that his inability to provide necessary medical care resulted from a lack of resources over which he ...

Tenth Circuit Orders Foreseeability Jury Determination for Detention by New Mexico DOC Employees

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s ruling that state corrections employees could be held liable only for their own initial 2- to 3-minute detention of two suspects, and not for further detention that occurred after the suspects were transferred to police custody.

New Mexico Corrections ...

Ninth Circuit: No Summary Judgment on Claim of Excessive Use of Pepper Spray

On January 17, 2013, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a grant of summary judgment in favor of California prison officials, concluding that the district court had failed to consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the prisoner plaintiff. Given the facts alleged, the appellate court held ...

Oregon: Jury Trials Required When Prosecutors Treat Misdemeanors as Violations

The Oregon Court of Appeals held on September 26, 2012 that criminal defendants are entitled to jury trials and reasonable doubt determinations when misdemeanors are reduced to violations – a ruling that was subsequently affirmed by the state Supreme Court.

Under ORS 161.566(1), Oregon prosecutors may treat most misdemeanors ...

Res Judicata Doesn't Bar Ohio Post-release Control Challenge

The Ohio Supreme Court has held that “when a criminal defendant is improperly sentenced to post-release control, res judicata does not bar the defendant from collaterally attacking his conviction for escape due to an earlier post-release-control sentencing error.”

In 1998, Donald Jack Billiter III was convicted of a first-degree felony ...

Hawaii: Incarceration is Good Cause for Failure to Appear; Bail Forfeiture Set Aside

The Hawaii Supreme Court has held that incarceration constitutes good cause for failing to appear at an arraignment. As such, the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to set aside a bail forfeiture.

Atmarama D. Diaz faced criminal charges in Hawaii and California. He was arrested on a drug ...

News in Brief

Alabama: On July 29, 2013 there was a break-in at the Draper Correctional Facility. According to the Department of Corrections, three sections of the prison were burglarized in the early morning hours, and laptop computers and multiple weapons were discovered missing when employees started arriving around 5:00 a.m ...