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Prison Legal News: March, 2015

Issue PDF
Volume 26, Number 3

In this issue:

  1. Screening Out Family Time: The For-Profit Video Visitation Industry in Prisons and Jails (p 1)
  2. Private Prison Information Act Reintroduced in Congress with PLN’s Help (p 13)
  3. From the Editor (p 14)
  4. Michigan Governor Lacks Authority to Revoke Commutations (p 15)
  5. Murders in Maryland Prisons Continue Despite Reforms (p 16)
  6. Texas Sex Offender Oversight Agency Faces Investigations, Calls for Reform (p 18)
  7. Arizona DOC Director Blames Job Stress for Hundreds of Employee Arrests (p 20)
  8. The United States and Torture (p 22)
  9. Ninth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of California ADA Suit Against Parole Officers (p 23)
  10. Federal Court Caseloads Threaten Constitutional Protections (p 24)
  11. Lawsuits Over Riot at CCA Prison in Colorado Settle for $600,000 (p 26)
  12. Third Circuit Affirms Nominal Damages, Reverses PLRA Fee Cap Order (p 28)
  13. “Damning” Audit Sharply Criticizes Corizon in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania (p 30)
  14. Georgia Deputies Liable for Detaining and Stripping Man in Debt Judgment Execution (p 32)
  15. GEO Group’s Florida Immigration Detention Center “Horrifying” (p 34)
  16. Rhode Island Prison Guards Collect Double-Time-and-a-Half during States of Emergency (p 35)
  17. CDCR Employees Investigated, Lose Jobs for Cell Phone Smuggling (p 36)
  18. Kosher Meals Lawsuit Against Nevada DOC Dismissed (p 36)
  19. Illinois Prisoner Receives $12 Million Jury Award in Medical Neglect Suit (p 38)
  20. Oregon Probation Extended for Inability to Pay Financial Obligations (p 39)
  21. Former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Freed from Prison (p 40)
  22. Former Virginia Executioner Now an Anti-Death Penalty Activist (p 40)
  23. Sovereign Immunity Doesn’t Bar Attorney Fee Award Against Georgia DOC (p 42)
  24. Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual, 2d Ed., by Dan Manville (p 42)
  25. Kentucky Death Row Prisoners Win Appeal on Religious Accommodations (p 44)
  26. Claim Alleging Guard Slammed Prisoner’s Head into Wall Defeats Summary Judgment (p 44)
  27. California: Authorized Possession of Legal Materials Cannot Serve as Basis for Gang Validation (p 45)
  28. Ninth Circuit: No Summary Judgment on Male Guard Supervision of Female Prisoners Ban (p 46)
  29. PLN Partly Prevails in Censorship Suit against Georgia Jail; $10,000 in Damages (p 46)
  30. Ninth Circuit: 27-Month Segregation Implicates Due Process Liberty Interest (p 48)
  31. Cell phones are “Dangerous Contraband” for New York Felony Contraband Possession (p 50)
  32. Exonerated Texas Prisoner’s Ex-Wife Not Entitled to Compensation (p 52)
  33. $1.3 Million Settlement in Prisoner’s Death at Michigan Jail; Claims Against Other Defendants Dismissed (p 52)
  34. Summary Judgment Denied in California Jail Excessive Force Death; $8.3 Million Settlement Plus Injunctive Relief (p 54)
  35. Texas Court Reexamines Test for Misconduct by Forensic Scientist (p 56)
  36. $66,000 Jury Award in New Mexico CCA Sexual Abuse, Retaliation Case (p 56)
  37. Eighth Circuit Reverses Denial of Qualified Immunity; Prisoner Proved Neglect, Not Deliberate Indifference (p 58)
  38. Deaths at South Carolina Jail Under Investigation; Multiple Lawsuits Filed (p 58)
  39. Pennsylvania: Wexford Settles Case Involving Death of Prisoner’s Baby (p 60)
  40. Third Circuit Denies Intervention in CRIPA Class-Action Suit (p 62)
  41. News in Brief (p 63)

Screening Out Family Time: The For-Profit Video Visitation Industry in Prisons and Jails

Screening Out Family Time: The For-Profit Video Visitation Industry in Prisons and Jails

by Bernadette Rabuy and Peter Wagner

Every Thursday, Lisa* logs on to her computer and spends $10 to chat for half an hour via video with her sister who is incarcerated in another state. Before the Federal ...

Private Prison Information Act Reintroduced in Congress with PLN’s Help

Private Prison Information Act Reintroduced in Congress with PLN’s Help

On December 10, 2014, U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) reintroduced the Private Prison Information Act (PPIA) in Congress. The bill, HR 5838, requires non-federal correctional and detention facilities that house federal prisoners to comply with the Freedom of ...

From the Editor

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

This month’s cover story reports on the relatively recent phenomenon of video visitation. While video visits are technologically new, the underlying principle upon which they are being implemented is not.

PLN has reported extensively on the prison telephone industry and its ruthless gouging of ...

Michigan Governor Lacks Authority to Revoke Commutations

Michigan Governor Lacks Authority to Revoke Commutations

by David Reutter

The Michigan Supreme Court held on June 3, 2014 that the governor does not have the power to revoke a completed commutation of sentence. It further held that where it is the governor’s clear intent to commute a sentence and ...

Murders in Maryland Prisons Continue Despite Reforms

Murders in Maryland Prisons Continue Despite Reforms

Reforms instituted by Maryland officials in an effort to curb violence in the state’s prison system have done little to stem the number of prisoner homicides, according to statistics released by the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Prison officials reported ...

Texas Sex Offender Oversight Agency Faces Investigations, Calls for Reform

Texas Sex Offender Oversight Agency Faces Investigations, Calls for Reform

by Matt Clarke

An increasing number of attorneys, legislators and prisoner advocacy groups are calling for reforms to Texas laws governing the civil commitment of sex offenders, with many warning that the state’s civil commitment program may be unconstitutional due ...

Arizona DOC Director Blames Job Stress for Hundreds of Employee Arrests

Arizona DOC Director Blames Job Stress for Hundreds of Employee Arrests

One Phoenix TV station learned first-hand the consequences of letting the target of a news story find out too much about it in advance.

Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) Director Charles L. Ryan – tipped off that a local ...

The United States and Torture

The United States and Torture

by William Blum

Two of the things that governments tend to cover-up or lie about the most are assassinations and torture, both of which are widely looked upon as exceedingly immoral and unlawful, even uncivilized. Since the end of the Second World War the United ...

Ninth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of California ADA Suit Against Parole Officers

Ninth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of California ADA Suit Against Parole Officers

by Derek Gilna

In a decision that displayed its displeasure with California parole officers’ disregard for both the spirit and statutory requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal of an ADA Title ...

Federal Court Caseloads Threaten Constitutional Protections

Federal Court Caseloads Threaten Constitutional Protections

by Matt Clarke

Civil and criminal case filings in federal courts have grown dramatically over the past two decades, but at the same time the number of judges available to hear them has barely increased according to a report by researchers at Syracuse University ...

Lawsuits Over Riot at CCA Prison in Colorado Settle for $600,000

Lawsuits Over Riot at CCA Prison in Colorado Settle for $600,000

by Derek Gilna

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), confronted with the prospect of a jury trial scheduled to last 25 weeks on the claims of almost 200 current and former prisoners who suffered injuries during a 2004 riot ...

Third Circuit Affirms Nominal Damages, Reverses PLRA Fee Cap Order

Third Circuit Affirms Nominal Damages, Reverses PLRA Fee Cap Order

by Mark Wilson

On March 28, 2014, a New Jersey federal district court refused to reduce a prisoner’s attorney fee award to $1.50 (i.e., 150% of his $1.00 nominal damages award) pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform ...

“Damning” Audit Sharply Criticizes Corizon in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania

“Damning” Audit Sharply Criticizes Corizon in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania

by Gregory Dober

In December 2014, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania Controller Chelsa Wagner released an audit report on Corizon Health’s compliance with its contract to provide medical care at the county jail in Pittsburgh.

The audit cited 14 areas in which the ...

Georgia Deputies Liable for Detaining and Stripping Man in Debt Judgment Execution

Georgia Deputies Liable for Detaining and Stripping Man in Debt Judgment Execution

by David Reutter

The Georgia Court of Appeals held in March 2014 that Fulton County sheriff’s deputies who detained a man to execute a debt judgment can be held liable for violating his rights.

Brooke Payne, the former ...

GEO Group’s Florida Immigration Detention Center “Horrifying”

GEO Group’s Florida Immigration Detention Center “Horrifying”

by David M. Reutter

Hundreds of undocumented immigrants are housed at the GEO Group-operated Broward Transitional Center (BTC) in Pompano Beach, Florida, and many are victims of mistreatment and policy violations according to a report issued by an immigrants’ rights group.

The 71-page ...

Rhode Island Prison Guards Collect Double-Time-and-a-Half during States of Emergency

Rhode Island Prison Guards Collect Double-Time-and-a-Half during States of Emergency

When he declared a state of emergency – as he did multiple times after being elected in 2010 – former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln D. Chafee had more on his mind than just public safety. The governor acknowledged that he ...

CDCR Employees Investigated, Lose Jobs for Cell Phone Smuggling

CDCR Employees Investigated, Lose Jobs for Cell Phone Smuggling

Some did it for money. Others for love, or something like it. Whatever their motives, at least 21 California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) employees faced internal investigations in the first six months of 2014 for allegedly smuggling cell phones ...

Kosher Meals Lawsuit Against Nevada DOC Dismissed

Kosher Meals Lawsuit Against Nevada DOC Dismissed

by Matt Clarke

On August 12, 2012, a Nevada federal district court approved a notice of proposed settlement in a class-action civil rights suit brought by a Jewish prisoner over the announced intent of the Nevada Department of Corrections (DOC) to stop providing ...

Illinois Prisoner Receives $12 Million Jury Award in Medical Neglect Suit

Illinois Prisoner Receives $12 Million Jury Award in Medical Neglect Suit

by Matt Clarke

n January 18, 2013, an Illinois federal jury awarded a state prisoner $12 million against an Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) certified medical technician (CMT) who failed to provide anti-seizure medication, which caused the prisoner to ...

Oregon Probation Extended for Inability to Pay Financial Obligations

Oregon Probation Extended for Inability to Pay Financial Obligations

by Mark Wilson

In a July 9, 2014 ruling, the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld a trial court’s extension of probation for failure to pay financial obligations due to poverty. The Court of Appeals concluded that Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U ...

Former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Freed from Prison

Former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Freed from Prison

A former Michigan State Supreme Court Justice is once again a free woman following her release from federal prison after serving time for bank fraud.

Diane Hathaway, 60, was released from a minimum-security women’s prison in Alderson, West Virginia in May 2014 ...

Former Virginia Executioner Now an Anti-Death Penalty Activist

Former Virginia Executioner Now an Anti-Death Penalty Activist

Once Virginia’s chief executioner, Jerry Givens put 62 people to death over a 17-year period from 1982 to 1999. Then he had an epiphany that pushed him to use his experience to advocate against the death penalty.

Givens, 60, became a supporter ...

Sovereign Immunity Doesn’t Bar Attorney Fee Award Against Georgia DOC

Sovereign Immunity Doesn’t Bar Attorney Fee Award Against Georgia DOC

by David Reutter

The Georgia Supreme Court held on June 16, 2014 that sovereign immunity does not bar an award of attorney fees and litigation costs against the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDOC).

The ruling resulted from certiorari review of ...

Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual, 2d Ed., by Dan Manville

Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual, 2d Ed., by Dan Manville

(PLN Publishing, Dec. 2014). 368 pages, $49.95 paperback

Book review by John E. Dannenberg

Renowned attorney Dan Manville, co-author of the Prisoners’ Self-Help Litigation Manual, has produced another must-have book for everyone who’s incarcerated.

Doing time necessarily involves fighting the ...

Kentucky Death Row Prisoners Win Appeal on Religious Accommodations

Kentucky Death Row Prisoners Win Appeal on Religious Accommodations

by Derek Gilna

On August 15, 2014, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of five death row prisoners in Kentucky who sued the director of the Department of Corrections (DOC) under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons ...

Claim Alleging Guard Slammed Prisoner’s Head into Wall Defeats Summary Judgment

Claim Alleging Guard Slammed Prisoner’s Head into Wall Defeats Summary Judgment

by David Reutter

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a grant of summary judgment in a prisoner’s civil rights action, holding that a reasonable jury could conclude a guard had “inflicted serious pain” on the prisoner “with malicious ...

California: Authorized Possession of Legal Materials Cannot Serve as Basis for Gang Validation

California: Authorized Possession of Legal Materials Cannot Serve as Basis for Gang Validation

The California Court of Appeal has held that documents in the possession of a prisoner who is providing legal assistance to another prisoner cannot be used to validate the first prisoner as an associate of a prison ...

Ninth Circuit: No Summary Judgment on Male Guard Supervision of Female Prisoners Ban

Ninth Circuit: No Summary Judgment on Male Guard Supervision of Female Prisoners Ban

by Mark Wilson

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held on July 2, 2014 that a claim that a jail policy banning male guards from supervising female prisoners violates Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination could not ...

PLN Partly Prevails in Censorship Suit against Georgia Jail; $10,000 in Damages

PLN Partly Prevails in Censorship Suit against Georgia Jail; $10,000 in Damages

In March 2013, a federal district court granted a preliminary injunction to Prison Legal News that prohibited jail officials in Walton County, Georgia from refusing to deliver PLN’s publications to prisoners. The court declined to grant an ...

Ninth Circuit: 27-Month Segregation Implicates Due Process Liberty Interest

Ninth Circuit: 27-Month Segregation Implicates Due Process Liberty Interest

by Mark Wilson

On May 4, 2014, in a corrected decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that lengthy segregation without periodic, meaningful reviews may give rise to a protected liberty interest.

In addition to general population housing, the Oregon ...

Cell phones are “Dangerous Contraband” for New York Felony Contraband Possession

Cell phones are “Dangerous Contraband” for New York Felony Contraband Possession

by Mark Wilson

On May 8, 2014, a New York Supreme Court Appellate Division held that cell phones constitute “dangerous contraband” under the state’s felony contraband possession statute.

Pursuant to New York law, a prisoner’s possession of non-dangerous contraband ...

Exonerated Texas Prisoner’s Ex-Wife Not Entitled to Compensation

Exonerated Texas Prisoner’s Ex-Wife Not Entitled to Compensation

by Matt Clarke

In a May 12, 2014 opinion, a Texas Court of Appeals held that the former wife of a prisoner who spent over 24 years in prison was not entitled to a portion of the $2 million he received in ...

$1.3 Million Settlement in Prisoner’s Death at Michigan Jail; Claims Against Other Defendants Dismissed

$1.3 Million Settlement in Prisoner’s Death at Michigan Jail; Claims Against Other Defendants Dismissed

When Michigan’s Saginaw County agreed to pay $1.3 million to settle a civil rights lawsuit stemming from a prisoner’s medical-related death, it may have been left with a case of buyer’s remorse. Following the ...

Summary Judgment Denied in California Jail Excessive Force Death; $8.3 Million Settlement Plus Injunctive Relief

Summary Judgment Denied in California Jail Excessive Force Death; $8.3 Million Settlement Plus Injunctive Relief

by Mark Wilson

In April 2014, a California federal district court denied summary judgment to jail guards and medical staff in a case involving the death of a detainee caused by Tasing and severe ...

Texas Court Reexamines Test for Misconduct by Forensic Scientist

Texas Court Reexamines Test for Misconduct by Forensic Scientist

by Mark Wilson

On January 15, 2014, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals modified its earlier decisions in which it had presumed that evidence handled by a forensic scientist who engaged in misconduct was false and material.

Jonathan Salvador was a ...

$66,000 Jury Award in New Mexico CCA Sexual Abuse, Retaliation Case

$66,000 Jury Award in New Mexico CCA Sexual Abuse, Retaliation Case

by Matt Clarke

On November 15, 2012, a New Mexico federal jury awarded $66,000 to a woman formerly incarcerated at a prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) who alleged she had been sexually assaulted by ...

Eighth Circuit Reverses Denial of Qualified Immunity; Prisoner Proved Neglect, Not Deliberate Indifference

Eighth Circuit Reverses Denial of Qualified Immunity; Prisoner Proved Neglect, Not Deliberate Indifference

by Mark Wilson

On March 25, 2014, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s denial of qualified immunity on a prisoner’s claims that a delay in providing blood pressure medication caused him to go ...

Deaths at South Carolina Jail Under Investigation; Multiple Lawsuits Filed

Deaths at South Carolina Jail Under Investigation; Multiple Lawsuits Filed

The widow of a mentally ill man who hanged himself less than an hour after being booked into jail in Orangeburg County, South Carolina is suing the county and other defendants, alleging her husband’s death could have been prevented.

The ...

Pennsylvania: Wexford Settles Case Involving Death of Prisoner’s Baby

Pennsylvania: Wexford Settles Case Involving Death of Prisoner’s Baby

A federal civil rights complaint filed in March 2013 accused employees of Wexford Health Sources of failing to provide appropriate medical care to a pregnant prisoner at Pennsylvania’s Westmoreland County Prison (WCP), resulting in the death of her nearly 8-month-old unborn ...

Third Circuit Denies Intervention in CRIPA Class-Action Suit

Third Circuit Denies Intervention in CRIPA Class-Action Suit

by Mark Wilson

On April 11, 2014, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a prisoner’s motion to intervene in a 28-year-old class-action case on the eve of settlement.

In 1986, the United States filed suit against the Virgin Islands under the ...

News in Brief

News in Brief

California: On June 24, 2014, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department identified two prisoners killed in an apparent homicide at U.S. Penitentiary Victorville. Brian Kountz, 24, and Robert Howard Ferguson, 49, were pronounced dead at the prison on June 21, 2014. The FBI is investigating their ...