by Sharona Coutts and Zoe Greenberg, RH Reality Check
Investigative Series Shows Systemic Abuses of Women in Prisons and Jails
Keeley Schenwar learned she was pregnant the same day she was arrested. That spring of 2013, she didn’t pee on a stick and study the results in the bathroom; there was no moment of elation. Instead, a nurse at the Cook County Jail in Chicago led Schenwar to a separate part of the facility, away from the other women. When Schenwar asked why, the nurse broke the news.
Schenwar, who was just 23 at the time, with warm brown eyes and glossy black hair, barely knew what to say. She had been struggling with a heroin addiction for more than five years. For the second time, she’d been caught stealing from a Walgreens – medicines, makeup, razors – anything she could sell to local corner stores to scramble together the $400 or $500 she needed to pay for her addiction.
She’d been in and out of county jails for years, but this time she was headed to state prison, and she was pregnant.
“I cried,” she told RH Reality Check. “I didn’t want to tell anyone I was ...
$1 Million for Medical Neglect Death of Wisconsin Jail Prisoner
by David M. Reutter
A Wisconsin federal jury awarded $1 million to the estate of a prisoner who died of a heart attack at the Racine County Jail (RCJ); the award came after the jury found jail officials were deliberately ...
From the Editor
by Paul Wright
The one area of American life where no one is calling for gender equality or parity is that of mass incarceration. Prisons are and remain a tool of social control aimed primarily at men, who make up 91% of all prisoners. The number of women in prison has dramatically increased over the past 25 years in raw numbers, though their percentage as the overall portion of the prison population has remained roughly 9%. Of course 9% of 1.1 million prisoners in 1990 is a lot lower than 9% of 2.3 million prisoners 25 years later. With prisons being designed and structured to manage and destroy men, it is no surprise that women prisoners are generally treated as little more than an afterthought with little in the way of specialized programs, treatment and most importantly medical care. As one critic commented, “they paint the prison pink and call it a women’s prison.”
Since our inception, PLN has reported on the gender biases and discrimination that women prisoners face. This month’s cover story continues that tradition and sadly illustrates that even as things change, they remain the same. Probably the best thing women ...
A City of Convicts: The statistical sleight of hand that makes the U.S. crime rate seem lower than it really is
by Josh Voorhees
Imagine an American city with 2.2 million people, making it the fourth largest in the nation behind New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Now imagine that city is a place where residents suffer routine violence and cruelty at rates unlike anywhere else in the country, where they are raped and beaten with alarming frequency by their neighbors and even the city officials who are paid to keep them safe. Now imagine that we, as a nation, didn’t consider the vast majority of that violence to be criminal or even worth recording. That is, in effect, the state of the U.S. correctional system today.
Each year, the federal government releases two major snapshots of crime in America: The Uniform Crime Reports, written by the FBI, and the National Crime Victimization Survey, compiled by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. As part of the former, the FBI tallies a year’s worth of crime as reported by police departments around the country. The latter estimates the same by surveying a sample of the American public. The two reports provide the best ...
$1.35 Million Award in Montana Jail Prisoner’s Alcohol Withdrawal Death
by David M. Reutter
The Montana Human Rights Commission (MHRC) awarded $1.35 million for a pre-trial detainee’s death after finding county jail officials showed “discriminatory indifference” for failing to treat the prisoner’s alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Allen J. Longsoldier ...
New Jersey Pre-trial Detainee’s Mysterious Death Results in $650,000 Settlement
by David M. Reutter
$650,000 settlement was reached in a lawsuit filed by the estate of a prisoner who died at the Cumberland County Jail (CCJ) in New Jersey.
Steven C. Bell, 32, was arrested on New Year’s ...
Grand Jury Investigates Santa Cruz County Jail Deaths
by N.H. Putnam, Sin Barras
Santa Cruz County, California is seen by many as a model for enlightened jail policies. But in May 2014 the Santa Cruz County Grand Jury released a report on the unusual number of deaths in the county jail in 2012 and 2013, titled “Five Deaths in Santa Cruz: An Investigation of In-Custody Deaths.”
The Grand Jury found that a lack of after-hours mental health evaluations and failures to follow procedures on the part of jail staff likely contributed to the deaths. The deaths and the report have county residents questioning whether jail is the appropriate solution for drug addiction and mental health problems.
In the mid-1990s, Santa Cruz County was a model site for the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, a program that is now recognized as a nationwide standard for reducing incarceration of juveniles. In response to a 2004 Santa Cruz Grand Jury report that found crowded and unsafe conditions in the county jail, Santa Cruz expanded several programs designed to provide alternatives to incarceration. These programs have been credited with allowing the county to reduce incarceration rates to significantly below the statewide average.
Is Redemption Possible for Former Prisoners?
The three women who were kidnapped and held hostage by Ariel Castro in a “house of horrors” in Cleveland, Ohio – tortured and sexually abused for roughly a decade – have been repeatedly praised for their strength and resilience since their rescue in May 2013, and were even presented with courage awards by Ohio Governor John Kasich at the end of his State of the State speech on February 24, 2014.
Members of the legislature stood and cheered for two minutes during the ceremony – the longest ovation of the evening – as Amanda Berry, 27, Gina DeJesus, 24, and Michelle Knight, 33, accepted their medals. It was the first time the three had appeared in public together since their nightmarish ordeal ended.
Castro, 53, was eventually indicted on 977 criminal counts, including kidnapping, rape and aggravated murder, the latter related to the deaths of five unborn children resulting from his repeatedly impregnating one of the women. Under a plea agreement, Castro pleaded guilty and was sentenced on August 1, 2013 to life in prison without parole plus 1,000 years. The following month he committed suicide by hanging himself with a bed sheet ...
Massachusetts: Wrongful Death Claims Survive Summary Judgment in Prisoner Suicide Case
by Mark Wilson
n September 15, 2014, a Massachusetts superior court denied summary judgment to jail officials on a wrongful death claim related to a prisoner’s suicide, though the court dismissed deliberate indifference claims against three defendants.
Eric Adams was taken into custody by the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) on December 5, 2008. During intake at the Worcester County House of Corrections (WCHC), a jail employee conducted a suicide screening that identified only a “psychiatric history (psychotropic medication or treatment)” as a suicide risk factor. A psychiatric screening conducted at the same time revealed “that Adams had a history of psychotropic medication, outpatient mental health treatment, violent behavior, and substance abuse/treatment.”
WCHC contracts with Advocates, Inc., a private entity, to provide prisoner mental health services. Advocates employee Brian McNeil reviewed Adams’ mental health screening and concluded that no further evaluation was necessary.
As a result, Adams was assigned to the general population and not placed on suicide watch. WCHC physician Thomas Patnaude later learned of Adams’ prior methadone history and placed him on methadone detoxification, including Tranxene and Donnatal three times a day. However, on ...
Arbitrator’s Award on Pay Raises for Prison Guards Costs Pennsylvania County $5 Million
by David M. Reutter
Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County Commission has been forced to dip into its reserve funds to comply with an “unaccountable” arbitration award that resulted in a 7% annual pay increase for the county’s prison guards.
In 2009, an arbitrator awarded pay increases of 7% to the guards for 2009, 2010 and 2011. The County Commissioners agreed to the raise in 2009, but refused to pay the increases for the next two years.
The Commissioners considered the arbitrator’s award to be advisory, as courts cannot force a legislative body to raise taxes. The Commonwealth Court disagreed and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court refused to hear the county’s appeal in September 2013.
The County Commission faced a $4.4 million bill to pay prison guards the 7% raise. That did not sit well with Commission Chairman Scott Martin, who noted that no one else in county government received a raise in 2010 and 2011, and some employees faced pay freezes.
An “unaccountable arbitrator,” he said, should not be allowed to order pay increases absent approval by the County Commission.
“I just don’t think I’m comfortable with someone ...
$1.75 Million Settlement in Michigan Detainee’s Heroin Withdrawal Death
by David M. Reutter
A $1.75 million settlement was reached in a lawsuit brought by the estate of a pre-trial detainee who died as a result of heroin withdrawal after being denied medical care.
In the days leading up ...
Ex-Con Seeks Return to Prison for Medical Treatment
In a depressing commentary on the availability of health care in the United States, a former federal prisoner got himself arrested so he could receive treatment for his leukemia. Although a judge declined to re-imprison the man, saying it would be inhumane, the ex-con was later returned to prison for violating the terms of his supervised release.
After serving 20 years for conspiring to traffic in cocaine, Frank J. Morrocco, 58, was released from federal prison in 2011 and placed on five years’ supervised release. A year later, Morrocco stole $23 worth of “junk items” from a supermarket in Amherst, New York – including shoelaces, sandals and a small stuffed animal – in the hope, he claimed, of returning to prison so he could get “excellent ... top-of-the-line care” for his cancer.
“It was an act of desperation. I went into that store and took things I didn’t need, and I made sure a lot of people saw me,” Morrocco said. “At the time I did it, I felt that I didn’t have any other way to get the care that I need for my leukemia.”
Arrested on a charge of ...
Palestinian Prisoners in Israeli Jails Smuggle Sperm to Impregnate Wives
by Matt Clarke
Authorities in Israel concede there is little they can do to stop a growing practice among Palestinian prisoners: smuggling their sperm out of prison in order to impregnate their wives and father children.
Since August 2012, about 30 women in the West Bank have been successfully impregnated with their husband’s sperm smuggled out of Israeli jails, according to Dr. Salim Abu Khaizaran, president of the Razan Center for In-Vitro Fertilization in Nablus, the clinic that handles the vast majority of smuggled sperm. At least seven pregnancies have been reported by local news media at a separate in-vitro fertilization clinic in Gaza.
The reasons behind the upsurge in sperm smuggling are two-fold: women who are lonely while their husbands are incarcerated can find hope for the future by having a child and, at the same time, strike a psychological blow at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
“I know it won’t be easy raising a baby with a husband in jail, but this is our way of breaking Israel’s siege on us,” said Suad Abu Fayed, 34, referring to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. “We are challenging [Israel’s ...
Denial of Time Served Credit Violates Vermont Law
by Mark Wilson
On August 29, 2014, the Vermont Supreme Court held that an amended sentencing order denying time served credit violated state law.
In June 2013, Roger Perry pleaded no contest to two burglary charges in exchange for a total prison term of six months. The following month, Perry was sentenced to six months on the burglary convictions, consecutive to an unrelated drug sentence. However, the court ordered the immediate execution of the burglary sentence and directed the Department of Corrections (DOC) to grant Perry credit for time served according to law.
The DOC credited Perry with 228 days of time served on his unrelated drug conviction pursuant to 13 V.S.A. § 7032. As a result, he was incarcerated only eight days of his six-month sentence for the burglaries.
Pursuant to 13 V.S.A. § 7042(b), the state moved the sentencing court for an amended sentencing order that denied credit for time served. The court granted the motion, concluding that no credit should be awarded for time served.
Perry appealed but the state moved to dismiss his appeal as moot, arguing that he had already completed his ...
Ninth Circuit: BOP Improperly Denied RDAP Sentence Reduction; Remedy may be Reduced Supervised Release Term
by Mark Wilson
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held on October 27, 2014 that the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) had improperly denied a prisoner early release eligibility, and remanded the case for a potential reduction of the prisoner’s supervised release term.
In 2011, federal prisoner Shane Abbott applied for the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP). Citing a 2009 rule denying RDAP eligibility to prisoners with outstanding warrants, BOP officials denied Abbott’s request. He then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, seeking to compel the BOP to grant him RDAP eligibility.
An Oregon federal district court dismissed Abbott’s petition. While his appeal was pending, the BOP reversed its decision; after one of Abbott’s warrants was quashed, the BOP found that he was eligible for RDAP participation. Concluding that a prior Montana unlawful restraint conviction was equivalent to “kidnapping” under 28 C.F.R. § 550.55(b)(4), however, BOP officials determined that he was not eligible for RDAP’s early release incentive.
The Ninth Circuit instructed the district court to consider whether the BOP had properly denied Abbott an RDAP sentence ...
“American Taliban” Wins Injunction Against BOP Religious Worship Restrictions
by Derek Gilna
Federal prisoner John Walker Lindh, better known as the “American Taliban,” who pleaded guilty to fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan and carrying an explosive during the commission of a felony, has won a lawsuit against the ...
Oregon: No Presumed Prejudice for Violation of Attorney-Client Communication
by Mark Wilson
On August 20, 2014, the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s refusal to dismiss criminal charges against a defendant because a detective had read his legal mail.
Michael James Russum, 33, was charged with four sex crimes against his step-daughter in April 2010 and detained at the Multnomah County Jail.
Jail policy allows for the inspection and copying of outgoing mail unless the prisoner writes “Legal Mail” on the envelope. Incoming mail which is “clearly marked” from an attorney or law firm must be inspected for contraband in the prisoner’s presence.
After Russum’s arrest, Detective Hickey suspected that Russum was sending letters through his grandmother to influence his step-daughter’s mother, who was a potential witness. At Hickey’s request, jail staff began opening Russum’s mail and scanning the contents into the jail’s computer system.
In July 2010, Deputy Watts, who coordinated the jail’s mail monitoring program, sent Hickey an e-mail with 30 to 50 attachments consisting of Russum’s mail between June 1, 2010 and July 1, 2010. Each attachment was a scan of an envelope or a single page of a letter.
In August, Watts sent Hickey ...
New Report Cites Improvements at Troubled Ohio Prison
Prisoner-on-staff assaults at the Toledo Correctional Institution (TOCI) in Ohio continued to rise in fiscal year 2014, but a recent report from a state inspection team indicates the facility has made improvements in other areas, and prisoner-on-prisoner assaults have declined significantly.
The report, released on November 24, 2014, also revealed marked improvement in overcrowded conditions at the prison.
The Ohio Correctional Institution Inspection Committee found during its review of the facility that the total number of assaults during FY 2014 dropped 5.7% compared to the same period the previous year.
“The institution is overall safer, with a perceptibly more secure environment,” the report stated. “Healthcare services, which have traditionally been problematic at TOCI, have drastically improved. Fair treatment accountability – including the grievance procedure and the inmate disciplinary system – has improved and conditions in segregation were very good. Access to purposeful activities has increased and reentry planning is significantly better than in the prior year,” the study found.
The report cited a dramatic drop in the population at TOCI – 18.3% in FY 2014 compared to a year earlier. The population count, taken on September 29, 2014 ...
Nebraska Court Awards Prisoner $267,000 in Failure to Protect Suit
by David M. Reutter
Following a bench trial, a Nebraska state court found prison officials were aware of threats to prisoner James M. Saylor but failed to take steps to protect him. Consequently, the court awarded damages and interest ...
$266,653 Judgment in Lawsuit Challenging Alabama Prison’s Improper Sewage Discharge
by David Reutter
Following a settlement agreement between Black Warrior Riverkeeper (Riverkeeper) and Alabama Utility Services (AUS), a judgment was entered in a lawsuit that alleged the sewage treatment plant at the William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility (DCF) had ...
Dismissal of State-Created Danger Claim Reversed
by David M. Reutter
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s order dismissing a civil rights action that alleged the disclosure of a confidential informant’s status established a state-created danger in violation of his due process rights.
The suit at issue was filed by the estate of Frank P. Lagano, who was fatally shot on April 12, 2007 in front of a diner in East Brunswick, New Jersey. The complaint argued that the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office (BCPO) and former BCPO Chief of Detectives Michael Mordaga were liable because BCPO employees had improperly revealed to members of organized crime that Logano was an informant, and that disclosure led to Logano’s murder.
The New Jersey federal district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the suit. On appeal, the Third Circuit addressed each of the lower court’s alternative theories to support the dismissal.
The first theory was that neither the BCPO nor Mordaga were “persons” amenable to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, § 1985 or the New Jersey Civil Rights Act (NJCRA). Precedent held that local government bodies and their officials are “persons” under § 1983 and § 1985 ...
Judicial Misconduct Results in Mild Sanctions
by Matt Clarke
In November 2011, the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct (TCJC) temporarily suspended Aransas County Court-at-Law Judge William Adams after a 2004 video of Adams viciously beating his then-16-year-old daughter, Hillary, went viral. The state Supreme Court reinstated Adams on November 9, 2012. [See: PLN, Nov. 2013, p.9].
The one-page order reinstating Adams to the bench contained two conditions. First, he will no longer be allowed to preside over domestic abuse cases, which previously had been the majority of his docket. Further, he is not allowed to appeal a public warning issued by the TCJC in September 2012. That warning said abusive conduct would not be tolerated.
No criminal charges were brought against Adams because the beating shown in the 2004 video was outside the statute of limitations. The judge never admitted wrongdoing, saying he was only disciplining his daughter, and continued to collect his $150,000 annual salary while suspended.
Adams is not the only judge to engage in improper behavior and receive light sanctions. [See, e.g., PLN, Aug. 2009, p.1].
In Tennessee, former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner, 66, pleaded guilty to state charges of ...
Nevada DOC’s “One Eye Policy” Challenged; Summary Judgment Reversed
by Lonnie Burton
In an October 24, 2014 corrected ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals addressed a Nevada prison policy that denies prisoners with one good eye medical treatment for their other eye. The 2-1 decision reinstated a lawsuit that had been dismissed on summary judgment.
The plaintiff, Nevada state prisoner Joel Colwell, 67, who is serving life without parole, is blind in one eye. Colwell’s eye problems began in 2001 when he developed a cataract in his right eye; by 2002 he was totally blind in that eye.
Colwell did not request or receive any further vision care until he asked for a cataract consultation in 2009. At that time he was examined by a prison optometrist who noted Colwell was eligible for surgery.
According to R. Bruce Bannister, Medical Director for Nevada’s prison system, a cataract is “cloudiness (opacity) of the lens of the eye” which does “no damage to the eye and can be removed at any time.”
The Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) has a formal written policy for cataract treatment, which states, in essence, that if a prisoner can still “function within their current ...
$71,000 Settlement in Iowa Prisoner’s Sexual Harassment Claim
by David M. Reutter
A former Iowa prisoner received a $71,000 settlement after being sexually harassed at her prison job in a case that established prisoners have civil rights protections with respect to employment under Iowa state law.
While incarcerated ...
Washington Prisoner’s Wife Prevails on PRA Claim for Investigative Report Redactions
by Mark Wilson
On September 16, 2014, the Washington Court of Appeals held that information redacted from a prison investigative report should have been disclosed to a prisoner’s wife under the state’s Public Records Act (PRA). The appellate court remanded for the lower court to consider an attorney fee award and penalties under RCW 42.56.550(4).
Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) prisoner Brock Marchel was “dry celled” for three days following a visit with his wife, Libby Haines-Marchel. When no contraband was discovered, he was returned to his regular cell.
Marchel received a copy of a report stating he was dry celled because three prisoners, whose identities were concealed, claimed that he was smuggling narcotics into the prison through visits with his wife.
Haines-Marchel filed a PRA request for documents concerning her husband’s dry celling. She received 43 pages of responsive documents. One document was the same report Marchel was given, except her copy was much more heavily redacted.
Haines-Marchel appealed the redactions to the DOC, which denied her appeal on the grounds that the information was exempt from disclosure under RCW 42.56.240(1) and ...
Fifth Circuit Holds Texas Prisoner has Right to Free Kosher Meals
by Matt Clarke
On December 21, 2012, in a lawsuit that still remains pending, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a Jewish prisoner in Texas has the right to receive free kosher meals.
Max Moussazadeh, 36, filed suit under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc, asserting a right to receive kosher meals when he was assigned to the Coffield Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). As a result of the litigation, TDCJ officials began allowing Jewish prisoners to purchase kosher meals from commissaries at four prisons that were denoted Basic Designated Jewish Units – the Darrington, Terrell, Stiles and Wynne Units. The TDCJ also opened a kosher kitchen at its only Enhanced Designated Jewish Unit, the Stringfellow Unit, and moved Moussazadeh to that facility. The district court then dismissed his suit as moot.
While the dismissal was on appeal, Moussazadeh was convicted of a disciplinary infraction, received a higher security classification and was transferred to the Stiles Unit. This prompted the Fifth Circuit to reverse the dismissal of his lawsuit because it was no longer ...
Automatic Oregon Death Row Confinement Pending Resentencing Enjoined
by Mark Wilson
On October 10, 2014, an Oregon federal judge enjoined prison officials from automatically segregating death sentenced prisoners who have had their sentences vacated and are awaiting resentencing.
Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) prisoners are assigned custody levels pursuant to a five-level classification system. Level 5 is the highest classification level.
Under OAR 291-104-0111(7)(a), ODOC’s “automatic placement rule” (APR), all prisoners convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to death are automatically assigned to Level 5 and housed on death row, where conditions of confinement are much more restrictive than in general population. Prisoners convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to life with or without parole are placed in general population.
In 1999, Jesse Stuart Fanus was convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to death. He was automatically assigned a Level 5 custody classification pursuant to the APR and confined on death row.
In October 2012, Fanus’ death sentence was vacated and he remained in ODOC custody awaiting resentencing. He requested that prison officials move him from death row to general population; when his request was denied, he filed a grievance seeking reclassification and a transfer from death row ...
Fourth Circuit Finds No Sex Reassignment Surgery Evaluation States Claim; $13,000 Settlement
he Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held on January 28, 2013 that refusal to evaluate a transgender prisoner for sex reassignment surgery states a valid Eighth Amendment claim. The case later settled after the plaintiff was released ...
Sixth Circuit: Group Strip Searches and Delousing at Ohio Jail State Claim
by David Reutter
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a proposed class-action complaint filed on behalf of pretrial detainees at the Cleveland House of Correction, which alleged it was unreasonable for the jail to 1) spray them with delousing solution instead of allowing them to self-apply it, and 2) conduct strip searches and delousing in groups of detainees (or with one detainee spraying another), stated a cause of action.
In its November 10, 2014 ruling, the Court of Appeals reversed an Ohio federal district court’s order dismissing the detainees’ suit and denying leave to amend their complaint. The district court found an amendment would be to no avail because the claims were foreclosed by Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders of Cnty of Burlington, 132 S.Ct. 1510 (2012). [See: PLN, July 2011, p.32].
In Florence, the plaintiff was subjected to a visual body search and required “to shower with a delousing agent.” The Florence majority held that institutional “security imperatives” for conducting visual strip searches of everyone admitted to a jail without exception outweighed the need for individual suspicion and the intrusion ...
California Tests State Prisoners for Valley Fever Amid Lawsuits, Deaths
by Derek Gilna
The State of California is taking steps to minimize the number of cases of coccidioidomycosis, a fungal infection commonly known as “valley fever,” at two prisons in the rural Central Valley area, including testing prisoners for ...
Federal Court Strikes Down Pennsylvania Law that Restricts Prisoners’ Speech
by Derek Gilna
Pennsylvania state lawmakers and former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett both claimed they had good intentions when they enacted legislation that restricted prisoners’ free speech rights if their speech might upset crime victims. A federal judge disagreed, however, finding the law vague and overbroad.
“A past criminal offense does not extinguish the offender’s constitutional right to free expression,” stated U.S. District Court Chief Judge Christopher C. Connor. “The First Amendment does not evanesce at the prison gate, and its enduring guarantee of freedom of speech subsumes the right to expressive conduct that some may find offensive.”
The legislation, titled the Revictimization Relief Act, 19 Pa. C.S. § 11.1304, had been passed in rapid response to a prerecorded commencement address at a small Vermont college provided by Pennsylvania political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was sentenced to death for the murder of Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner in 1981. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Mumia’s death sentence and he was resentenced to life without parole, which was reaffirmed by the state Superior Court in July 2013. See: Commonwealth v. Abu-Jamal, 2013 Pa. Super. Unpub ...
$110,000 Settlement in Suit over Nebraska Jail Prisoner’s Suicide
by Matt Clarke
Lincoln County, the City of North Platte and Great Plains Regional Medical Center agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the sister of a Nebraska jail prisoner who committed suicide. As part of the settlement, the county ...
Maryland DOC’s Ban on Media Interviews with Prisoners Upheld
Maryland Circuit Court found apetition filed by a group of prisoners who were denied interviews by a local newspaper was moot, but questioned the propriety of using victims’ rights as a reason for prison officials to veto the interviews.
In November 2007, Jessup Correctional Institution (JCI) prisoners Robert Morgan, Rashid Salih, Ronald Ellis and Larry Bratt formed the Extra Legalese Group (ELG). Fellow prisoners Vincent Greco and Dwight Davis-Bey later joined the group.
ELG sponsors several programs at JCI; within two months of its formation, it set up a literary lab to help prisoners with poor reading skills. The group’s efforts focus on “the desire to find solutions to the sad reality of violence and victimization in our communities,” said Greco.
To that aim, ELG’s Peace Initiative strives to prevent crime in prison and on the streets by uniting gang members, at-risk youth, community and religious leaders, and prisoners to stop violence “where it is most likely to transpire and replicate: amongst gangs and prisoners who have engaged in violent crime and who, unfortunately, are emulated by the youth,” Morgan wrote.
A Maryland newspaper, The Daily Record, recognized ELG’s ...
New York: $360,000 Award for Guard’s Statutory Rape of Prisoner
by Matt Clarke
The New York Court of Claims has awarded a former prisoner $360,000 in a lawsuit in which she claimed a prison guard repeatedly had sexual contact with her, some of it unwilling, and impregnated her ...
Supreme Court Reinstates Challenge to North Carolina Post-Release GPS Sex Offender Monitoring
by Derek Gilna
In a March 30, 2015 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed a North Carolina law that requires certain sex offenders to wear a satellite-tracking device following their release from prison. Torrey Dale Grady had been convicted of a second-degree sex offense in 1997 and taking indecent liberties with a child in 2006. He objected to wearing the tracking device, arguing it was a violation of his “Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.”
Grady’s objection was based on the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Jones, 132 S.Ct. 945 (2012), which held “police officers had engaged in a ‘search’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when they installed and monitored a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking device on a suspect’s car.” Grady contended that requiring him to wear a GPS monitor was essentially a search of his person but the North Carolina courts disagreed, saying the facts were distinguishable from those in Jones.
The Supreme Court noted that Grady’s fact situation resembled that of Florida v. Jardines, 133 S.Ct. 1409 (2013) – where the ...
Ninth Circuit: Plata Doesn’t Bar Individual Injunctive Relief Claims; $26,000 Settlement
by Mark Wilson
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that an individual California prisoner’s medical care injunctive relief claims are not barred by Plata v. Brown, the class-action suit that seeks systemic reform of California’s prison healthcare system.
A three-judge federal court ordered the Plata defendants to reduce the population of the state’s prison system to 137.5% of design capacity within two years, a ruling that was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. [See: PLN, July 2011, p.1].
On April 11, 2013, the three-judge court denied the defendants’ motion to vacate or modify the release order, reasserting that they “must reduce the California prison population to 137.5% of design capacity.”
The Plata defendants sought a stay of the prison population reduction order, which was denied by the Supreme Court in August 2013. [See: PLN, Sept. 2013, p.21].
Meanwhile, California state prisoner David Codell Pride, Jr., who suffers from shoulder and knee injuries, was confined at the Pelican Bay State Prison. His medical conditions were treated with a double mattress and a knee brace.
When Pride was transferred to Calipatria State ...
Two Former Oklahoma Prison Guards Get Deferred Sentences in Prisoner’s Death
by Matt Clarke
Two former guards at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary (OSP) received deferred sentences in connection with the death of an OSP prisoner who died due to smoke inhalation after setting fire to the mattress in his cell. Court documents stated the guards witnessed smoke coming from the cell and could not see whether the prisoner inside was alive, then lied about it to their supervisor and other prison staff.
Former guards Jay Nair, 46, and David Willis, 30, pleaded no contest on September 12, 2014 to second-degree manslaughter and misdemeanor willful neglect in the death of prisoner Julius J. Parker, 26.
According to court records, the judgment and sentencing for Nair and Willis were deferred for a period of two years. Both were also fined $450 and ordered to submit to supervision by the D.A.’s office for one year. A third former guard, David Anderson, 56, faces the same charges.
All three men were named in a wrongful death suit filed by Parker’s father in August 2013. The lawsuit, which also named the State of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) in addition ...
Former Nurse at Maine State Prison Files Suit Over Racial Slurs
by Joe Watson
For the second time in as many years, allegations of racism have been leveled against employees at the Maine State Prison. In the most recent incident, a former nurse at the facility filed suit in federal court, alleging that she was the target of repeated racial taunts and was fired after she complained.
The suit was filed on October 14, 2014 by attorney David Webbert on behalf of Shana E. Cannell, who worked as a licensed practical nurse at the prison from February through October 2010. The lawsuit names Corizon LLC in addition to the company’s director of nursing, Brian Castonguay, and administrator Tammy Hatch and fellow nurse Larry Brayhall. See: Cannell v. Corizon, U.S.D.C. (D. Maine), Case No. 1:14-cv-00405-NT.
Cannell, who is black, claims that some prison staffers also made derogatory comments directed at her, though Webbert said the state is not named in the litigation.
“Defendants orchestrated and condoned a continuing campaign of harassment against Cannell because of her race and in retaliation for her opposition to the unlawful race discrimination and harassment in the workplace,” the suit alleges ...
Feds and Tennessee Officials Investigate Prisoners Using Facebook
by David Reutter
The Bureau of Prisons is investigating two prisoners who were discovered using Facebook to “broadcast live” from a federal facility in Atlanta, where they are serving time on drug and weapons charges. The probe was initiated following a November 19, 2014 investigative news report by WSMV Channel 4 in Nashville.
“Hey, what’s up everybody! It’s your boy Stackhouse Dadon, reporting live from the federal penitentiary,” said one prisoner in a video posted on Facebook.
“You all stay tuned, man. We’ll keep you updated on what’s going on in this prison,” the other prisoner stated.
The WSMV news report identified the pair as Cameron Braswell and Rex Whitlock, both from Tennessee. The videos and status updates posted on Facebook also showed off the pair’s tattoos and shoes.
“Federal inmates are not authorized to use any equipment that would allow for creating videos of themselves inside our prisons,” a Bureau of Prisons spokesperson said in a statement. “We immediately conduct investigations into these matters.” The statement added that Braswell and Whitlock could face administrative sanctions and possible federal prosecution stemming from their online profiles. Authorities have also ...
Ninth Circuit: PLRA Fee Cap Inapplicable to Fees on Appeal
by Mark Wilson
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the attorney fee cap provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) does not apply to fees incurred on appeal.
California prisoner Earnest Cassell Woods II obtained a federal ...
Over 100 Protestors Converge at GEO Group’s Shareholder Meeting
On April 29, 2015, over 100 people joined a protest outside the GEO Group’s annual shareholder meeting at the Boca Resort and Club in Boca Raton, Florida. GEO, a private prison firm that trades on the New York Stock Exchange, bills itself as the “largest provider of correctional services in the world.”
Groups participating in the protest included PLN’s parent organization, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), as well as members from Grassroots Leadership, the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Enlace International, SEIU-Florida, the Palm Beach Environmental Coalition and Dream Defenders groups on campuses across Florida.
PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann, an activist shareholder who owns a small number of shares of GEO Group stock, attended the meeting. When he asked about recent reports of hunger strikes by immigrant women held at the GEO Group-operated Karnes County Family Detention Center in Texas, he was informed by a GEO executive that there was no hunger strike; rather, it was a “boycott of dining facilities” at the detention facility.
GEO Group founder and CEO George C. Zoley further remarked that the women detained at Karnes awaiting asylum hearings “have a higher standard of living” ...
Wyoming Prisoner Escapes from Private Transport Van, Remains on the Run
by Mark Wilson
If his history is any indication, Wyoming fugitive Kenneth James Ward probably didn’t need a head start. But he got one when a private prison transport company let him get away and did not report the escape for almost 90 minutes.
In 2010, Ward, 51, disappeared after stealing vehicles and equipment worth more than $100,000 from a Farson, Wyoming trucking company.
The trail quickly went cold, but the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) never gave up the pursuit. They finally caught a break when they discovered that Ward was hiding out in Northern Mexico.
Federal law enforcement officials persuaded Mexican authorities to arrest Ward and deport him to the United States, according to an August 23, 2013 SCSO media release. Case closed, or so they thought.
Things went south after Sweetwater County hired Inmate Services Corporation (ISC), a private Arkansas-based transportation company, to extradite Ward from Arizona.
When the ICS transport van stopped at an Independence Rock, Wyoming rest area to give the prisoners a bathroom break on August 31, 2013, Ward disappeared. Surveillance footage showed him wearing handcuffs but no shackles or belly chain ...
BOP Settles Medical Negligence Claim for $600,000
by David M. Reutter
The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) paid $600,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging officials at USP Coleman Low caused a prisoner to suffer permanent injuries due to their negligent provision of medical care.
BOP prisoner Robert Lee ...
Tennessee County Agrees to Improve Mental Health Care for Prisoners
The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has reached an agreement to settle a civil complaint that alleged the rights of mentally ill prisoners at the Robertson County Detention Facility (RCDF) in Springfield, Tennessee were being violated.
A combination of complaints from prisoners to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee and an evidentiary hearing by a district court into conditions at RCDF prompted the DOJ to investigate.
The initial complaints concerned the food served at the jail, though the DOJ found prisoners were being properly fed. Investigators, however, cited serious issues with the provision of mental health care: nurses had little or no mental health training, and there was limited access by prisoners to mental health care and unsafe practices in handling suicidal prisoners.
It was alleged in the DOJ’s lawsuit that prisoners could be removed from suicide watch by signing contracts stating they would not hurt themselves. “For someone with suicidal ideation who is actively suicidal, these ‘contracts for safety’ fail to protect prisoners from attempting and/or completing suicide,” the complaint stated.
In 2012 there were two ...
Second Circuit: Rule 41 Dismissal Requires Five Factor Analysis
by Mark Wilson
In September 24, 2014, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that a district court had improperly dismissed a New York prisoner’s lawsuit for failure to prosecute, without weighing the required factors.
Federal prisoner Harry Baptiste filed suit in federal court against a prison warden and three Bureau of Prisons (BOP) doctors, alleging deliberate indifference for misdiagnosing his lung condition and prescribing medication that may have exacerbated his symptoms.
On December 11, 2010, the district court dismissed all of the claims except a deliberate indifference claim against one doctor for refusing to order a biopsy that would have led to an accurate diagnosis.
The court allowed Baptiste to file an amended complaint alleging state law negligence or medical malpractice claims against two other doctors within 60 days.
On January 14, 2011, Baptiste filed a document entitled “Amended Complaint,” though it was actually a legal brief purporting to rebut the allegations of the defendants’ answer.
The district court directed the clerk to return the pleading and Baptiste never filed an amended complaint. After nearly two years of inactivity, the court issued a November 16, 2012 order to show ...
Former PA Supreme Court Justice Convicted, Disbarred, Ordered to Write Apology
by Joe Watson
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has accepted the voluntary disbarment of one of the high court’s former jurists who was convicted in 2013 on corruption charges. Former Justice Joan Orie Melvin, 58, was also ordered to come up with new wording for an apology she was required to write to judges across the state.
The Supreme Court accepted Melvin’s surrender of her law license on January 15, 2015 and announced that action a day later. Melvin had agreed in December 2014 to give up her license following her conviction for using state employees on state time to work on her 2003 and 2009 Supreme Court election campaigns.
At a November 4, 2014 hearing, Allegheny County Judge Lester Nauhaus ordered Melvin to rewrite an apology he had previously ordered her to send to members of the state’s judiciary. The hearing was the result of a complaint lodged by the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office.
“This isn’t an apology,” Nauhaus told Melvin’s attorney, Patrick Casey, in response to letters mailed by Melvin in October 2014. “I want this thing to come to an end. I don’t know why ...
Pollution Prison in Pennsylvania
by Mumia Abu-Jamal
Recently, a group of human rights researchers, responding to letters from prisoners at SCI Fayette, found a slew of environmental dangers and threats to the lives, health and well-being of hundreds of prisoners, guards and other staff members at the prison in Western Pennsylvania.
The Abolitionist Law Center and the Human Rights Coalition, with the help of the Center for Coalfield Justice, sent questionnaires into the facility and visited prisoners willing to talk.
They found that the prison, built in the midst of a massive coal waste dump filled to the brim with toxic fly ash, caused or was a significant contributor to nearly a dozen cancer deaths and serious life-threatening diseases and disorders. [See: PLN, April 2015, p.42].
The Abolitionist Law Center and Human Rights Coalition investigated the claims, researched the science and came up with a damning 25-page report. The report, entitled “No Escape: Exposure to Toxic Coal Waste at State Correctional Institution Fayette,” reads like a horror story of medical neglect, callousness and human suffering.
In addition to 11 fatal cases of cancer, half-a-dozen other prisoners have been diagnosed with cancer, others suffer from respiratory ailments and 58 ...
Nevada Jail Charges Prisoners for Meals, Medical Care to Defray Costs
by Michael Brodheim
Overcrowding at Nevada’s Elko County jail is expected to ease with the scheduled completion of an addition to the facility, while the jail continues to work on correcting deficiencies reported in a Nevada Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) citation filed in the wake of a complaint by a female prisoner.
The April 2013 citation faulted the jail for failing to meet state standards in five areas, most critically by providing only half as many toilets for female prisoners as required by HHS guidelines. Instead of having one toilet for every eight prisoners, the facility provided just one for every 16 prisoners.
To bring the facility into compliance, the county transferred long-term female prisoners to jails in other counties, but Lt. Kevin McKinney said that solution costs $50 per prisoner per day and is not designed to be long-term.
“It’s a temporary fix,” he stated. “We’re going to have to bring them back sooner or later because right now we’re traveling back and forth for court.”
Undersheriff Clair Morris said other steps implemented by the jail include the release of women charged with ...
News in Brief
Arizona: Sergio Aguilar, 51, incarcerated at the Towers Jail in Phoenix, died on November 4, 2014 following a fight among several prisoners that reportedly started over a commissary-related issue. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office said the incident was a “racially divided brawl” and Aguilar had been punched in the face. He was found unconscious and placed on a ventilator, then died several days later; he had been jailed on a probation violation.
Brazil: On October 14, 2014, at least six prisoners were tossed from rooftops and 12 guards taken hostage in yet another uprising at a Brazilian prison. No deaths were reported at the Guarapuava facility but at least eight people were injured; the riot began when about 40 prisoners overpowered guards while on a work detail. PLN has reported numerous times on Brazil’s troubled prison system. Severe overcrowding, bad food and poor treatment were cited as the reasons for the latest unrest.
California: Two men who worked as guards at the Salinas Valley State Prison were arrested on September 18, 2014 in connection with the death of a man they had fought outside a bar. Sergio Aranda and Travis Woolf are accused of voluntary manslaughter because ...