Inside America’s Toughest Federal Prison
by Mark Binelli, New York Times Magazine
For years, conditions inside the United States’ only federal supermax facility were largely a mystery. But a landmark lawsuit is finally revealing the harsh world within.
In prison, Rodney Jones told me, everyone had a nickname. Jones’s was Saint E’s, short for St. Elizabeths, the federal psychiatric hospital in Washington, best known for housing John Hinckley, Jr. after he shot Ronald Reagan. Jones spent time there as well, having shown signs of mental illness from an early age; he first attempted suicide at 12, when he drank an entire bottle of Clorox. Later, he became addicted to PCP and crack and turned to robbery to support his habit.
I met Jones a few blocks from his childhood home in LeDroit Park, a D.C. neighborhood not far from Howard University. It was a warm October afternoon, but Jones, 46, was wearing a puffy black vest. The keys to his grandmother’s house, where he currently lives, hung from a lanyard around his neck. His face was thin, a tightly cropped beard undergirding prominent cheekbones, and he had a lookout’s gaze, drifting more than darting but always alert.
From the age ...
From the Editor
by Paul Wright
As this issue of PLN goes to press the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced that on October 22, 2015, they will be issuing rules regulating all prison and jail telephone calls, including setting rate caps for debit and prepaid calls of $.11 per minute at prisons and $.14 to $.22 per minute at jails, plus banning most ancillary fees, among other reforms. We will report the details in an upcoming issue of PLN.
The critical point is that after the prison phone issue has languished on its docket for 12 years, the FCC has acted. In 2011, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), which publishes Prison Legal News, founded the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice with the Center for Media Justice and Working Narratives, with the goal of reducing the cost of prison and jail telephone calls. We are proud that has finally happened, and we would like to thank all of our readers and supporters over the past four years who have donated to and supported our efforts. The FCC also announced it will be revisiting prison phone issues within the next two years.
But more work remains to be done. HRDC ...
Idaho Prisoner Wins $602,000 Settlement against Corizon
by Derek Gilna
An Idaho state prisoner, William A. Bown, obtained a $602,782.50 settlement from Corizon Health in July 2014 for damages resulting from deliberately indifferent medical care arising from a heart attack he suffered at the Idaho Maximum Security ...
by Kent Russell
This column provides “habeas hints” to prisoners who are considering or handling habeas corpus petitions as their own attorneys (“in pro per”). The focus of the column is on the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), the federal habeas corpus law which now governs habeas corpus practice in courts throughout the United States.
“Stay and Abeyance”
Recent habeas corpus law prohibits federal judges who are considering habeas petitions from relying on any facts that were not already developed and exhausted in state court. Hence, and because there is often uncertainty as to what degree statutory tolling will be granted in federal court after state habeas corpus litigation has come to an end, it is becoming much harder for habeas corpus litigants to confidently complete the exhaustion of all potentially viable habeas corpus claims before the AEDPA’s statute of limitations runs out.
This has created a dilemma that can only be managed effectively by getting a solid grip on the new procedure known as “Stay and Abeyance” – a term which is applied to a federal habeas corpus petition that is temporarily stayed (frozen in time) and abeyed (held in suspension) while the petitioner returns ...
Pennsylvania Detainee’s Estate Claims Financial Incentive Motive for Denial of Medical Care; $325,000 Settlement
by David Reutter
A Pennsylvania federal district court ordered medical personnel employed by Correctional Medical Care, Inc. (CMC) to face claims brought by the estate of a pre-trial detainee who died from alleged deliberate indifference ...
Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders Files “Justice is Not for Sale Act”
by Derek Gilna
Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, along with Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona in the House, filed companion bills on September 17, 2015 to address some of the many problems in the U.S. criminal justice system. The highlights of their legislation include abolishing all for-profit prisons and reinstating parole for federal prisoners.
The proposed legislation, which must pass both houses of Congress before being signed into law by the President, also takes aim at various other criminal justice issues – including a quota that requires Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to incarcerate 34,000 detainees at any given time. The bill further addresses excessive charges for prison phone calls and money transfer services, requires ICE to better monitor its facilities and ends the detention of immigrant families.
Senator Sanders, who has advocated other social reforms, including raising the minimum wage and increasing oversight of large banks, noted in a press release that announced the filing of his bill that the private prison industry generates billions of dollars in annual revenues and employs teams of lobbyists to persuade government officials to ...
Toxic Traps: Environmental Hazards Threaten Two Federal Supermax Prisons
by Laura Cepero
A Solitary Watch investigation into the sites of the federal government’s two “supermax” facilities – the first open for two decades, the second slated to open soon – reveals a number of possible serious environmental hazards. The prisons, ADX Florence in Colorado and AUSP Thomson in Illinois, are built to hold men in extreme solitary confinement. This practice has roused increasing controversy in recent years, due to the psychological and physical damage caused by extreme isolation and sensory deprivation. Yet the impact of underlying environmental hazards on individuals locked down in small cells has never been adequately explored.
With rising concerns over environmental justice and the prison-industrial complex, some advocacy groups are questioning why prisoners are not taken into consideration when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approves environmental permits. The Human Rights Defense Center’s (HRDC) Prison Ecology Project and 92 other organizations, including Solitary Watch, drafted a letter to the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, arguing that because incarceration “fall[s] into a category of poverty discrimination policies which almost exclusively impact poor communities, with a disproportionate impact on poor communities of color,” federal prisons should be more thoroughly evaluated ...
Association of State Correctional Administrators Study Criticizes Solitary Confinement
by Derek Gilna
In August 2015, the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA), made up of the heads of state prison systems, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and large jails, in conjunction with the Arthur Liman Public Interest Program of Yale Law School, released a study sharply critical of the use of solitary confinement in U.S. correctional facilities.
The study surveyed 34 facilities nationwide that hold almost 3/4 of the state and federal prison population, and estimated that up to 100,000 prisoners are held in some form of solitary confinement – more than previous estimates.
Whether termed “administrative segregation,” “disciplinary segregation” or “protective custody,” it typically means the same thing – prisoners are kept in their cells at least 22 hours a day, denied access to almost all programming, limited to perhaps one phone call a month and confined to an area about the size of a large bathroom. Many are held in such conditions indefinitely, and often the amount of time they are confined is counted not in days, weeks or months, but in years.
Corrections officials have finally begun to acknowledge that such ...
Pennsylvania: Settlement Means Better Care for Severely Mentally Ill Prisoners
by David M. Reutter and Derek Gilna
Severely mentally ill prisoners in Pennsylvania state prisons will receive improved treatment and live in better conditions following the settlement of a civil rights lawsuit filed by the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania (DRNPA) against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PDOC). The agreement, reached on January 5, 2015, follows improvements made by the PDOC after the suit was filed in March 2013.
“We are extremely pleased with the settlement,” said DRNPA Chief Executive Officer Peri Jude Radecic. “It guarantees that inmates with SMI (severe mental illness) in our state will be free of the horrific conditions of the RHU (restricted housing units) and will receive appropriate mental health treatment and other services. Now they will be able to maintain their mental stability, take advantage of the parole-eligibility programming, and serve their sentences in a way that does not punish them for merely having a serious mental illness.”
The 36-page settlement resolves DRNPA’s lawsuit alleging that Pennsylvania’s practice of segregating severely mentally ill prisoners in restricted housing violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. [See: PLN, April 2013, p.34]. The suit claimed ...
Failure to Protect New York Prisoner Nets $12,500 Award
by David Reutter
A New York Court of Claims awarded $12,500 to a prisoner based on his complaint that guards were negligent in failing to ensure his safety. However, the Court dismissed the prisoner’s medical malpractice claim stemming from ...
Breaking News: Federal Bureau of Prisons to Release 6,000 Prisoners
by Derek Gilna
In a dramatic announcement on October 6, 2015, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) stated it is preparing to release up to 6,000 prisoners by the end of the month or early November 2015, who will be sent to halfway houses or placed on home confinement. After the U.S. Sentencing Commission announced its “Drugs Minus Two” change in the sentencing guidelines for non-violent drug offenders in 2014, thousands of prisoners have filed for relief on a case-by-case basis. [See: PLN, Aug. 2014, p.26].
The sentencing change, made in part to relieve serious overcrowding in the BOP, was hailed by prisoners’ rights advocates such as Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), which noted it was the largest single one-time release of federal prisoners.
“The number of people who will be affected is quite exceptional,” said FAMM general counsel Mary Price. She acknowledged that so many prisoner releases “could be a scary thing,” but added it could also “be a signal that we as a nation are serious about rethinking our approach to crime and punishment.”
FAMM and Prison Legal News, as well ...
Oklahoma Early Release Program Leads to Only Isolated Cases of Recidivism
by Christopher Zoukis
Only two of the nearly 1,500 prisoners granted early release by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) from March to October 2014 have returned to prison, notwithstanding news reports indicating that lawmakers and “several” corrections officials have not been supportive of the releases.
The approximately 1,500 prisoners were granted early release due to the DOC’s renewed application of the Earned Credits program, which allows for the restoration of good behavior credits taken due to misconduct. The program has been on the books for about 20 years but was not widely used until recently.
Terri Watkins, a DOC spokeswoman, said the increased use of the program is part of a series of changes implemented by newly-appointed DOC Director Robert Patton.
While the Department of Corrections appears poised to expand its use of early releases, state Rep. Aaron Stiles said the program was “all about saving money.” He added that “several” corrections employees contacted him with a fear of speaking openly, and said they had made recommendations that “certain [prisoners] not be released, but they get overruled by upper level DOC administration.”
Watkins disagreed ...
Deaf Prisoner Settles Discrimination Suit for $150,000
by Mark Wilson
To settle what some are describing as a landmark disability discrimination case, Oregon prison officials agreed to pay a deaf prisoner $150,000.
Merle Baldridge, 42, is deaf and uses American Sign Language (ASL) as his primary form of ...
New York Prisoner Awarded $2,225 for Denial of Dental Care
by David Reutter
A New York Court of Claims awarded $2,225 to a prisoner who sued prison officials for medically negligent dental care for failure to extract a tooth for almost three months.
While imprisoned at the Elmira ...
11th Circuit Reinstates Suit Filed by BOP Confidential Informant
by Derek Gilna
The 11th Circuit has reinstated a previously-dismissed complaint alleging Eighth Amendment violations by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for being deliberately indifferent to the safety of a prisoner who acted as a confidential informant. The plaintiff, who filed suit using a John Doe pseudonym, had assisted the BOP in investigating one of its own officers, which put his personal safety in jeopardy.
While held at USP Atlanta, Doe helped obtain evidence against a BOP guard who had engaged in sexual misconduct. The guard resigned, and in exchange for his assistance Doe “was promised that he would be kept safe and would be transferred to a lower security prison.”
However, the BOP later transferred Doe to a high-security facility and failed to keep confidential his grievance concerning the transfer. As a result, he was placed in a cell with “two known sexual offenders, who severely beat and assaulted him.” Doe was then moved to several other high-security prisons and placed in special housing units; at one point he was sent back to USP Atlanta, where he “was beaten by a BOP officer so badly that he required ...
Prisoner’s Right to Counsel Violated by Eavesdropping on Attorney Phone Calls
by Christopher Zoukis
Charges against a Washington man awaiting trial on felony drug and stolen property charges were dropped by a Yakima County Superior Court after an investigation found that a prosecutor and sheriff’s detective had listened to phone calls made to his lawyer.
Superior Court Judge Douglas Federspiel dismissed the charges against Daniel Woolem following a two-day hearing and a court-ordered report from former Yakima County prosecuting attorney and retired U.S. Attorney Jeff Sullivan, who had been appointed to investigate the matter.
“Under the limited, unique and specific facts of this case based upon the record, it is the court’s opinion that of the available remedies, the only meaningful and appropriate remedy that addresses the violation of the defendant’s right to counsel is the dismissal of the pending charges against Mr. Woolem,” Federspiel wrote.
According to the investigation, phone calls between Woolem and his attorney at the time, Tim Schoenrock, were recorded in May 2011 at the Yakima County jail. Sheriff’s Detective Robert Tucker listened to the first call on May 3. Tucker claimed that he stopped listening as soon as he realized a lawyer was ...
Oregon: Medical Neglect of Diabetic Detainee Nets $260,000 Settlement
by Mark Wilson
A former Oregon jail detainee received $260,000 to settle his lawsuit alleging inadequate medical care.
Since 2008, Franklin Millner has suffered from “Charcot foot” – a softening of the foot bones due to nerve damage from ...
New York: $450,000 in Awards to Two Prisoners for Failure to Treat Muscle Tears
by David Reutter
A New York Court of Claims has awarded $250,000 to a former prisoner in a lawsuit claiming inadequate treatment for a ruptured Achilles tendon, and $200,000 to another prisoner for ...
Ohio Limits Solitary Confinement for Juvenile Offenders
by Derek Gilna
Ohio’s Department of Youth Services, which is responsible for the incarceration of offenders ages 10 to 21, reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in May 2014 to significantly reduce the frequency and duration of solitary confinement. Instead, state officials agreed to expand mental health services to juvenile offenders.
The previous year, a federal court had approved a consent order that mostly ended the monitoring of conditions of confinement and mental health services in Ohio juvenile facilities as part of a class-action suit. See: S.H. v. Reed, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Ohio), Case No. 2:04-cv-01206.
Ohio has joined a number of other states that have reformed their juvenile justice practices under varying degrees of pressure, either from the DOJ or advocacy organizations such as the ACLU. New York has agreed to limit its use of solitary for juvenile offenders, as have Texas, Nevada and Oklahoma.
Amy Fettig, senior staff counsel for the ACLU’s National Prison Project, said the well-respected American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has voiced its opposition to the use of solitary in juvenile facilities because the “potential psychiatric consequences ...
Seventh Circuit Vacates Unduly Restrictive Supervised Release Conditions
by Derek Gilna
In a consolidated case involving post-release restrictions imposed on federal defendants, the Seventh Circuit struck down those portions of a district court’s judgment it deemed beyond the scope of 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). The case was remanded for a new judgment order in line with the Court of Appeals’ recommendation of five “best practices” for conditions of supervised release.
The original conditions of release for one of the defendants, convicted of a sexual offense, included a lifetime prohibition on legal or illegal materials containing “nudity,” a ban on mood-altering substances and a mandatory sex offender program. Those of the other defendant, who was convicted of selling illegal drugs, also included a ban on mood-altering substances as well as a ban on excessive use of alcohol, plus a requirement that he receive substance abuse treatment and cognitive behavioral therapy.
The Seventh Circuit suggested instead that the district court follow the strictures of § 3583(d) of the Sentencing Reform Act and U.S.S.G. § 5D1.3(a), as well as 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), which requires a court to consider the seriousness ...
Sixth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Prisoner’s Bivens Suit against BOP Officials
by Derek Gilna
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a district court’s dismissal of a prisoner’s suit raising a failure to protect claim, remanding it for further proceedings. The district court had dismissed the case due to failure to exhaust administrative remedies and also because it found the dismissal of a federal tort claim on purely procedural grounds was a bar to other litigation that alleged related facts.
In 2010, federal prisoner Walter J. Himmelrich filed suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) against the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and various prison officials for failing to protect him from a 2008 assault by another prisoner in violation of the Eighth Amendment. He also filed a Bivens lawsuit alleging retaliation for the filing of the FTCA action, including being placed in administrative segregation for 60 days.
After a trip to the Sixth Circuit on appeal that resulted in a remand to the district court, the BOP filed for summary judgment in the Bivens case based upon the dismissal of Himmelrich’s FTCA suit and the fact that he had not exhausted his administrative remedies as required under the ...
PLN Files Censorship Suit against Virginia Jail
In September 2015, Prison Legal News filed a lawsuit in federal court against unconstitutional censorship practices at the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center (NWADC) in Winchester, Virginia.
The suit names the Northwestern Regional Jail Authority, NWADC Superintendent James F. Whitley and other jail employees as defendants, and says the jail has “adopted and implemented mail policies that unconstitutionally prohibit delivery of publications to prisoners in their custody and do not afford senders of censored mail due process notice and an opportunity to challenge the censorship as required by the Constitution.”
According to the complaint, in February 2014, Superintendent Whitley issued a memo to jail staff stating that with the exception of “approved” religious and educational materials, “books and magazines will no longer be allowed in the facility through the mail, directly from the publisher, or from a distribution source.”
As a result of this policy, PLN’s monthly publication sent to prisoners at NWADC was censored at least 170 times from October 2014 to the date the lawsuit was filed; further, jail staff censored and withheld at least 41 legal self-help books mailed to prisoners, marking them “REFUSED: Per Jail Policy.” ...
Soldiers Sentenced to Die, but No Executions on Military Death Row Since 1961
by Joe Watson
The guilty verdict and death sentence handed down on August 28, 2013 against U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan for a 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas that left 12 soldiers and one civilian dead and more than 30 others wounded highlighted a curious fact: no one on the military’s death row at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas has been executed since 1961.
Lawyers and military experts say that statistic is driven by the complexities of the military’s judicial system, legal questions surrounding the crimes for which capital punishment is an option and the often-secluded culture of military service.
“The military is a community of solidarity, a brotherhood and sisterhood, all to its own,” defense attorney Teresa Norris told CNN for a special report. “There is a real reluctance to execute fellow soldiers unless it’s absolutely the worst kind of case and this is the only way.”
Norris, a former military defense attorney turned civilian, represented former Army Pfc. Dwight Loving, who was sentenced to die in 1989 after robbing and killing two cab drivers – ...
Maricopa County, AZ Sheriff Stages Media Event to Promote Meatless Meals
by Joe Watson
When prisoners at the Maricopa County, Arizona jail lined up for chow on April 15, 2015, they were in for a surprise – helping to serve the midday meal was former Playboy model and Baywatch TV star Pamela Anderson.
Anderson visited the jail at the invitation of infamous Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to help promote his 2013 decision to remove meat products from prisoners’ meals. Anderson, a longtime vegetarian and spokeswoman for the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), offered her support for the meat-free diet.
“I believe people can be rehabilitated from the inside out,” she said in a statement. “Jails are full of people wanting to change, to make amends, to learn healthier habits and understand compassion and empathy.”
“When we heard about the vegetarian jail in Maricopa County, that’s 8,300 people a day not eating meat and it’s a wonderful example for other jails around the country that could have health impacts on the inmates as well as saving taxes,” PETA senior vice president Dan Mathews told ThinkProgress. “[I]t’s an efficient ...
$150,000 Award after New York Prisoner’s Family Denied Right of Sepulcher
by Mark Wilson
On February 6, 2014, a New York Court of Claims found that prison officials did not exercise reasonable efforts to locate a deceased prisoner’s next of kin before burying him in a prison cemetery.
Utah Sex Offender Prison Population Grows under Harsher Laws while Treatment Programs Lag
by Mark Wilson and Christopher Zoukis
Fueled by the notion “once a predator, always a predator,” harsher laws have flooded Utah state prisons with sex offenders sentenced to longer and longer prison terms, while funding for sex offender treatment programs has remained static. The dilemma has state lawmakers in a bind, caught between finding ways to reduce the state’s growing prison population and still taking the politically popular approach of appearing to be tough on sex offenders by locking them up with only limited access to treatment.
The eventual result, warned one member of Utah’s Board of Pardons and Parole, will be releasing everyone except murderers and sex offenders due to a lack of space in prison for anyone else.
According to research compiled by the Pew Charitable Trusts, sex offenders now make up one-third of Utah’s prison population – the single largest group of prisoners in state prisons, and nearly double the number of sex offenders imprisoned since 1996. Yet during that same time period, the state’s $1 million annual allocation for its sex offender treatment unit containing 200 beds has remained unchanged.
In 2012 ...
California: Ex-Prisoners on Community Supervision Secure Major Voting Rights Victory
by Lonnie Burton
Tens of thousands of convicted felons in California will have their voting rights restored after Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced he will not pursue an appeal of an Alameda County Superior Court ruling that struck down an edict issued by former Secretary of State Debra Bowen, which directed county clerks to deny the right to vote to certain offenders.
“If we are serious about slowing the revolving door at our jails and prisons, and serious about reducing recidivism, we need to engage – not shun – former offenders,” Padilla said in announcing his decision. “Voting is a key part of that engagement; it is part of a process of becoming vested and having a stake in the community.”
Padilla’s decision not to challenge the court ruling means that low-level felons serving sentences under the community supervision provisions of the state’s 2011 Criminal Justice Realignment Act will now be eligible to vote. An estimated 58,000 offenders are serving their sentences under the Realignment Act, though officials noted that number includes underage offenders and non-citizens who are barred from voting.
The announcement marked a victory ...
ACLU Prompts Kansas Jail to Change Religious Meals, Mail Policies
by Joe Watson
Prisoners at the Allen County jail in Iola, Kansas had been forced to violate their religious beliefs or go hungry until the ACLU persuaded jail officials to honor the U.S. Constitution.
According to the jail’s former policies on meals, per the prisoner handbook, “No one will be allowed to have special food for diets based on religious or other related reasons. You can simply choose not to eat.”
Such a policy, of course, violates state and federal laws that require correctional facilities to accommodate prisoners’ religious beliefs, noted Doug Bonney, legal director of the ACLU Foundation of Kansas. Bonney, in a letter addressed to Allen County officials, described the policy as unconstitutional because it required prisoners to “choose between starvation and remaining true to their religious creeds.”
While Allen County attorney Alan Weber said the policy in the handbook was old and agreed to remove it, he claimed that, for at least two decades, not a single prisoner had made a special food request based on religious preferences.
“I’ve been here 20 years and it’s not happened,” he said.
The Allen County jail ...
By James Kilgore, Truthout
Jails admit nearly 12 million people every year. Yet they are largely off the radar of critics of mass incarceration. However, as a new report by Vera Institute and actions by activists around the country demonstrate, jails matter.
In February 2015, the MacArthur Foundation launched a $75 million grant initiative to support counties and cities in developing strategies to reduce jail populations. Julia Stasch, MacArthur’s president, noted that “jails are where our nation’s incarceration problem begins [and] too often serve as warehouses for those too poor to post bail, nonviolent offenders, or people with mental illness.” The MacArthur initiative represents a belated awakening to the reality that jails are the local face of mass incarceration and, in many places, the New Jim Crow.
To date, popular knowledge about jails has remained a compendium of scenes from “Cops,” MSNBC’s “Lockup” or the pics circulated by Mugshots.com on their website and their widely-distributed magazine. But the critical lens is widening. Even small Midwestern towns are taking action.
On February 23, 2015, the city council of Urbana, Illinois passed a resolution condemning mass incarceration. The resolution went on to urge their county board, currently debating a much contested $32 ...
$10 Million Lawsuit Filed against Tennessee Jail in Hanging Death
by David Reutter
The estate of a pre-trial detainee who hanged himself at the Robertson County Detention Facility (RCDF) in Springfield, Tennessee has filed a $10 million federal lawsuit alleging deliberate indifference to his serious mental health needs. The death ...
Prisoner Admits to Scheme to Defraud Catholic Church, Gets 33 More Months in Prison
by Mark Wilson
A prisoner serving a lengthy sentence for a series of Pennsylvania bank robberies has been sentenced to additional time in federal prison after perpetrating a scheme to defraud the Catholic Church by falsely accusing priests in four different cities of molesting him, in one case while he was supposedly a teenaged runaway.
Federal officials said Shamont Lyle Sapp, 51, is the same person who gained notoriety in 2011 when he sued comedians Jamie Foxx and Tyler Perry for $1 million each, falsely claiming that they stole his idea for a movie project titled “Skank Robbers.”
Sapp hatched his scheme against the Catholic Church while serving time from 2005 to 2010, authorities said, making false claims against priests in Portland, Oregon; Spokane, Washington; Covington, Kentucky; and Tucson, Arizona. According to court records, Sapp took advantage of pending bankruptcies in Catholic dioceses that he researched while incarcerated.
“In two of his fraudulent claims, [Sapp] accused priests who already had been publicly revealed as serial sex offenders,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Peifer wrote in a sentencing memo. “In the other two claims, [he ...
California Court Finds “Horrific” Treatment of Mentally Ill Prisoners
by David Reutter
A California federal district court found “an existing constitutional violation with respect to use of force on seriously mentally ill inmates” in a long-running class-action lawsuit. After viewing six videos of what officials with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) described as acceptable use of force “tactics,” the court stopped the viewing and called the videos “horrific.”
The April 10, 2014 ruling came after the CDCR moved to terminate court oversight in the Coleman v. Brown class-action suit – a companion case to Plata v. Brown, which resulted in a landmark three-judge federal court order to significantly reduce the state’s prison population. [See: PLN, July 2011, p.1].
The prisoner class countered with motions to enforce prior court orders in the litigation and for affirmative relief. As PLN has previously reported, the district court found in 1995 that seriously mentally ill prisoners were being treated with punitive measures, placed in segregation without evaluation of their mental health condition and subjected to force without penological justification. [See: PLN, May 1996, p.20].
CDCR officials face a monumental task, for as of September 2013 there were ...
Ohio Appellate Court Orders Review of State Budget Over Private Prison Sale
by Gary Hunter
Ohio Governor John Kasich joined legislators in protesting an order by Ohio’s Tenth District Court of Appeals that instructed a trial court to edit the state’s biennial budget bill. The appellate court held that lawmakers had violated the “one subject/one bill” rule of Ohio’s Constitution when they inserted a prison privatization proviso in the budget.
In October 2013, the Ohio Court of Appeals unanimously found that lawmakers had improperly enacted a law that allowed for the sale and privatization of up to five state prisons. The Court overturned a trial court’s dismissal of the complaint, filed by the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OSCEA) and Progress Ohio, and ruled that the private prison language had “no rational reason” for being included in the budget.
As a result of the provision in the budget bill, state officials sold one prison, the Lake Erie Correctional Facility, to Corrections Corporation of America in 2011 for $72 million. The state pays CCA to house Ohio prisoners at the facility, at a cost of $29 million per year plus an annual ownership fee of almost $4 million. [See: PLN ...
Medicaid Helps Ohio Slash Prison Medical Costs
by Christopher Zoukis
A controversial decision by Ohio Governor John Kasich to expand Medicaid under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, has extended health coverage to all Ohio state prisoners, helping the state save $10.3 million in prison medical care costs in 2014 alone. That is on top of savings due to wholesale changes in the state’s prison medical care system, which was under federal court supervision until 2012.
Kasich’s July 1, 2013 decision to expand Medicaid resulted in medical benefits being extended to prisoners under age 21, over age 65, those who are pregnant and prisoners hospitalized for more than 24 hours, according to Joseph Rogers, an analyst for the Ohio Legislative Services Commission. All remaining state prisoners became eligible for benefits in March 2014.
The governor’s directive, which was opposed by state lawmakers, meant that the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University, which treats most prisoners who require hospitalization, began billing Medicaid directly for prisoner health care instead of billing the state, which is self-insured.
In an additional money-saving move still being considered, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) chief Gary C. Mohr asked ...
PLN Challenges Postcard-only Policy at Jail in Knoxville, TN
by Alex Friedmann
On October 6, 2015, Prison Legal News filed suit in federal court against Knox County, Tennessee, Sheriff James “J.J.” Jones and the assistant chief deputy at the Sheriff’s Office, challenging mail restrictions at the Knox County Jail which, among other provisions, only allow prisoners to receive correspondence in the form of postcards.
PLN also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, asking the court to prohibit the defendants from “improperly censoring publications and correspondence mailed to prisoners at the Knox County Jail ... by Plaintiff and other senders pursuant to a postcard-only policy, publication ban, and arbitrary book size restriction,” and to enjoin jail officials from denying due process when publications are rejected.
According to PLN’s complaint, the Knox County Jail has censored at least 147 pieces of mail sent to prisoners since November 2014, including PLN’s monthly magazine, brochures and books. Not only were the mailings censored, but the jail failed to provide PLN with notice of the censorship or the reason why the correspondence was rejected, nor an opportunity to appeal.
The jail also imposes restrictions on books, including size (no larger than 6 ...
Ninth Circuit: Damages Suit Not Heck-barred by Retrial
by Mark Wilson
In “an unusual case,” the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a California murder conviction on retrial did not bar a damages suit for the first conviction, which had been illegally obtained.
In 1995, Frederick Lee Jackson was convicted of rape and murder based, in part, on a taped interview by Ventura County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Barnes. Although Jackson was in custody, Barnes did not provide a Miranda warning before interviewing him.
During the interview, Jackson contradicted his earlier statements and placed himself at the murder scene, saying he “just happened to be there.” Jurors heard both statements and convicted him of rape and murder.
“Deeming the question ‘refreshingly simple,’” the Ninth Circuit vacated only the murder conviction, holding “that Jackson’s rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), were violated when Barnes interrogated him while he was in custody without giving him the requisite Miranda warnings.”
After his conviction was vacated but before he was retried, Jackson filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court seeking millions of dollars in damages. He alleged that Barnes’ failure to Mirandize him during ...
Florida’s IQ Rule for Death Penalty Exemption Unconstitutional
by David Reutter
Florida’s “rigid rule” that requires defendants to have an IQ of 70 or less before they can present mitigating evidence of an intellectual disability “creates an unacceptable risk that persons with an intellectual disability will be executed,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority in a 5-4 Supreme Court opinion issued last year, which found Florida’s strict IQ rule unconstitutional.
The Court’s decision involved the case of Freddie Lee Hall, who was convicted in the 1978 rape and murder of Karol Hurst, who was 21 and seven months pregnant, and murder of sheriff’s deputy Lonnie Coburn. The evidence at sentencing indicated Hall “has been mentally retarded his entire life” and was raised “under the most horrible family circumstances imaginable” by an abusive mother.
Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), Hall filed a motion claiming he was intellectually disabled – a term now used for mental retardation – and thus could not be executed. More than five years later, a hearing was held. Florida argued that state law requires defendants to have an IQ of 70 or lower before evidence ...
Homicidal Prisoner Fails to Derail Oregon Death Penalty Moratorium
by Mark Wilson
By most any standard, Craig Dennis Bjork, 53, meets the definition of an undeniably dangerous person. Apparently unimpressed by his first five murders, one can only hope that prison officials finally recognize he’s “for real” in the wake of his sixth homicide.
In 1982, Bjork, aka Craig Dennis Jackson, was sentenced to three consecutive life terms for the strangulation deaths of his 19-year old girlfriend, Ramona Yurkew, his two young sons, Joseph and Jason, and Gwendolyn Johnson, 22. All four bodies were found stuffed under beds in his Minneapolis apartment.
“It was like you took the lid off hell, looked inside then put it back on,” said defense attorney Kevin Burke.
In 1984, while serving his life sentences, Bjork threatened to kill a prison guard, asking “What can they do? Give me more time?” Minnesota does not have the death penalty.
While in solitary confinement at MCF Stillwater, Bjork wrote the warden in July 1996, describing himself as “homicidal” and depressed.
“I’m very close to committing mass murder in Stillwater,” Bjork stated. “Trust me minimum 3 bodies, I’d go for 10 & come real close ...
Prisoner’s Lawsuit Dismissed Due to Abusive Language
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has held that abusive language directed towards a federal magistrate judge was sufficient grounds to dismiss a prisoner’s lawsuit.
New York state prisoner Edward Koehl, while housed at the Green Haven Correctional Facility, sent several letters to a district court attacking the magistrate judge’s character, religion and fitness to preside over his case. He had originally filed suit against the prison’s medical department alleging that his constitutional rights were violated when medical staff failed to provide him with proper treatment, among other issues.
When Koehl became displeased with the way the magistrate judge was handling the case he submitted several abusive letters to the court. On January 27, 2012, the magistrate warned Koehl that if he did not stop sending abusive and insulting correspondence, sanctions against him could include dismissal of his case altogether.
Heedless of the consequences, Koehl fired off more abusive letters. In a rant dated April 9, 2012, he wrote, “[The magistrate judge] is the personification of why Jews such as myself are called KIKES.”
On April 26, 2012, the district court ordered Koehl to explain why his case should not be ...
News in Brief
California: On April 21, 2015, San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi announced that 30 body cameras would soon be deployed by jailers working within Jail No. 4. He said he hopes that the new equipment will emphasize transparency and accountability in his department, which has come under scrutiny as prisoners have raised allegations of “fight club” activity spurred on by guards. New policies are being created for the body cameras, such as when they should be turned on.
California: State prison officials announced on April 3, 2015 that a policy on segregating mentally ill prisoners would be changing. The policy will begin to shift disciplinary action for mentally ill prisoners from punitive measures to counseling, and is the latest change to result from a federal court ruling which held that taking punitive action against mentally ill prisoners violates their constitutional rights. “This is a very significant reform of the disciplinary process for prisoners with mental illness,” said attorney Michael Bien, who represents mentally ill prisoners in the long-running lawsuit. “What’s the point of punishing someone who’s psychotic?”
California: Two architectural engineering firms are being sued by San Bernardino County for alleged design flaws in the High Desert ...