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Prisoner Education Guide

Prison Legal News: January, 2016

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Volume 27, Number 1

In this issue:

  1. Are We There Yet? The Promise, Perils and Politics of Penal Reform (p 1)
  2. Getting the Money Out of Prison Reform (p 18)
  3. From the Editor (p 20)
  4. Michigan: Private Prison More Costly than State-Run Prison, Attracts Out-of-State Contracts (p 22)
  5. California Officials Reverse Position after Receiving Prison Phone Company Contributions (p 22)
  6. Utah Judge Orders Jail to Stop Seizing Prisoners’ Money for Pay-to-Stay Fees (p 24)
  7. One of the Largest Solar Power Companies in the U.S. has Ties to Prison Slave Labor (p 24)
  8. Study Finds Private Prisons Keep Prisoners Longer, Without Reducing Future Crime (p 26)
  9. Seventh Circuit Rejects Prisoner’s 1983 Claim but Criticizes Controlling Precedent (p 26)
  10. Seventh Circuit Rules Wisconsin Prisoner’s Religious Rights Must be Honored (p 28)
  11. Prison Legal News Settles New Mexico Jail Suit for $235,000 (p 28)
  12. California Court Upholds Prisoners’ Convictions for Fatal Jail Beating (p 29)
  13. Texas Hospital Settles Suit over Improper Border Patrol Search for $1.1 Million (p 30)
  14. Georgia: $453,000 Jury Verdict against Private Jail Medical Contractor (p 30)
  15. Why are Alameda County Jails Forcing Women to Take Pregnancy Tests? (p 32)
  16. Connecticut Prisoner Obtains Settlement in Civil Rights Case (p 35)
  17. Tragic Death at Washington Jail Results in Changes, $1.3 Million Settlement (p 36)
  18. Texas Grand Jury Indicts Two Jailers in Prisoner’s Death; Others Face Discipline (p 36)
  19. West Virginia Supreme Court Undermines Prisoners’ Right to Sue for Rape (p 39)
  20. Tulsa, Oklahoma Settles Four Wrongful Conviction Lawsuits for $810,000 (p 40)
  21. $130,000 Settlement in Minnesota Prisoner’s Medical Negligence Suit (p 40)
  22. President Obama “Bans the Box” at Federal Government Agencies (p 42)
  23. Washington State: Class-action Alleges DOC Policy of Denying Medical Care (p 42)
  24. California Prisoner Exonerated but Now Faces Deportation (p 43)
  25. Report Calls for End of Welfare and Food Stamp Restrictions for Felony Drug Offenders (p 44)
  26. Criticism of Congressional Mandate to Keep Immigration Detention Centers Full (p 46)
  27. A Clean Slate: Prisoners Taking Advantage of Tattoo Removal Programs (p 48)
  28. Report: Nearly One in Four Exonerations Involves Crimes that Never Occurred (p 49)
  29. Opposition to the Death Penalty Grows with High-Profile Support (p 50)
  30. Pope Francis Calls for Worldwide Prison Reform, Support and Hope for Prisoners (p 52)
  31. PLN Intervenes, Unseals Settlement in CCA Fair Labor Standards Act Case (p 53)
  32. Family of Prisoner Who Died from Allergic Reaction Settles Lawsuit for $2.4 Million (p 54)
  33. Federal Court Certifies Class-action for Thousands of Detroit Prisoners, Enters Default Judgment (p 54)
  34. Numerous Deaths at Nevada Prison Raise Questions, Concerns (p 56)
  35. Denver Wins Sexual Harassment Suit Filed by Former Jail Captain; Tenth Circuit Affirms (p 56)
  36. Two Suicides at Privately-operated Pennsylvania Facility (p 57)
  37. Oklahoma Prisoners Develop Software which Could Save the State Millions (p 58)
  38. $183,000 in Settlements for Sexually Abused Pennsylvania Prisoners (p 58)
  39. Ohio Prisoner’s Estate Awarded $350,000 (p 59)
  40. Colorado Court Finds Book Limitation Policy Violates Prisoner’s Religious Rights, but Case Reversed on Appeal (p 60)
  41. Conn. Guard Gets 90 Days, Probation for Sex with Prisoner (p 60)
  42. News in Brief (p 63)

Are We There Yet? The Promise, Perils and Politics of Penal Reform

Fifteen years ago, mass imprisonment was largely an invisible issue in the United States. Since then, criticism of the country’s extraordinary incarceration rate has become widespread across the political spectrum. The huge prison buildup of the past four decades has few ardent defenders today. But reforms to reduce the number of people in jail and prison have been remarkably modest so far.

Meanwhile, a tenacious carceral state has sprouted in the shadows of mass imprisonment and has been extending its reach far beyond the prison gate. It includes not only the country’s vast archipelago of jails and prisons but also the far-reaching and growing range of penal punishments and controls that lie in the never-never land between the gate of the prison and full citizenship. As it sunders families and communities and radically reworks conceptions of democracy, rights and citizenship, the carceral state poses a formidable political and social challenge.

The reach of the carceral state is truly breathtaking. It extends well beyond the estimated 2.2 million people sitting in jail or prison today in the United States. It encompasses the more than 8 million people – or 1 in 23 adults – who are under some form of ...

Getting the Money Out of Prison Reform

By Dan Berger, Truthout

Much has been made about the bipartisan nature of contemporary efforts to end mass incarceration, as everyone from Newt Gingrich and the Koch Brothers to Van Jones and the American Civil Liberties Union, and now even Hillary Clinton, says that the United States needs to reduce the number of people it incarcerates in its own gulag archipelago. If all these people agree, the conventional wisdom goes, surely we can get something done. Are prisons the only thing that can end Washington gridlock?

The most recent entrance in this debate came from the MacArthur Foundation, which announced on May 26, 2015 that it would be awarding grants of $150,000 each to 20 municipalities around the country to develop plans “that will lead to fairer, more effective local justice systems.” These grants are part of a $75 million initiative that the foundation has embarked on to reduce mass incarceration.

The MacArthur plan specifically focuses on local jails, and the 20 awardees account for 11 percent of the country’s jail population. The attention to jails is urgently needed: American jails largely house people too poor to make bail for minor offenses such as traffic violations or ...

From the Editor

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

Welcome to the first issue of PLN for 2016 as we enter our 26th year of continuous publishing. This month’s cover story about the rise of mass incarceration is something of a road map to how we got to where we are now. To put it into a broader context, when PLN started publishing in 1990 the U.S. had 1 million prisoners and it had taken 214 years to get to that first million. Then it took around ten years, to 2000, to double the number of people in prison to two million.

There is currently some talk about reducing the American prison population, yet no one is really talking about reducing it as fast as it grew. In the 1990s the U.S. was opening a new prison every two weeks for most of the decade, sometimes more. This played out at PLN, as we were adding those prisons to our database and then changing the addresses of our subscribers as they were moved into those new facilities. For all the talk of criminal justice reform, no one is talking about closing a prison every two weeks for the better part of ...

Michigan: Private Prison More Costly than State-Run Prison, Attracts Out-of-State Contracts

Michigan: Private Prison More Costly than State-Run Prison, Attracts Out-of-State Contracts

by David Reutter

The GEO Group, one of the nation’s largest for-profit prison companies, has signed contracts with Vermont and Washington State to house prisoners at a GEO prison in Michigan, after a review by Michigan officials determined it would be more costly for GEO to run the facility than to house prisoners in a facility operated by the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). That conclusion prompted the MDOC to shelve a proposal to move prisoners from three other prisons to the GEO-owned North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin.

Michigan lawmakers cleared the way for the contracts with Vermont and Washington by passing legislation to allow maximum-security prisoners to be held at the 1,740-bed North Lake facility. The GEO Group prison served as the Michigan Youth Correctional Facility until 2005 and later briefly held prisoners from California until it closed in 2011.

Vermont signed a two-year contract with GEO in May 2015 to provide “comprehensive correctional management services,” including offender rehabilitation programs. By June 30, 2015, the North Lake facility held 280 Vermont prisoners who previously had been incarcerated at the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA)-owned ...

California Officials Reverse Position after Receiving Prison Phone Company Contributions

California Officials Reverse Position after Receiving Prison Phone Company Contributions

by Derek Gilna

Prisoners and members of their families filed a federal class-action lawsuit in November 2015 against officials in Orange County and three other California counties, for charging excessive jail phone rates. According to the complaint, “Tens of thousands of California jail inmates and their families, most of whom are not convicted but facing charges, are held hostage to grossly unfair and excessive phone charges, forcing them to pay these charges in order to maintain contact with their loved ones who are incarcerated.”

Exorbitant phone rates have long been targeted by prisoners’ rights advocates – such as Prison Legal News and its parent organization, the Human Rights Defense Center – and after years of intense efforts, in October 2015 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a ruling that severely limits prison and jail phone rates nationwide. [See: PLN, Dec. 2015, p.40]. One of the many complaints made against prison phone companies is their practice of paying large amounts of money to government agencies and officials, in the form of “commission” kickbacks and campaign donations, respectively.

That was the case in Orange County, where county officials received contributions ...

Utah Judge Orders Jail to Stop Seizing Prisoners’ Money for Pay-to-Stay Fees

Utah Judge Orders Jail to Stop Seizing Prisoners’ Money for Pay-to-Stay Fees

by Matt Clarke

On April 9, 2014, Utah District Judge Michael G. Allphin signed a standing order for all criminal cases in which he presided, prohibiting Davis County Sheriff Todd Richardson, the sheriff’s office and its business manager from seizing funds from prisoners held at the county jail to reimburse costs of incarceration under a pay-to-stay policy.

The issue was raised a year earlier when prisoners contacted public defender Todd Utzinger, complaining that their personal accounts at the jail were being emptied in what they called “account sweeps” and the sheriff referred to as pay-to-stay. Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings termed the practice “illegal, unconstitutional accounting enemas.”

“I view it as a significant violation of people’s rights,” said Rawlings. “They’re going to get sued, and they’re going to lose.”

Rawlings advised the sheriff to stop the account sweeps, which were temporarily halted. However, they began again in the fall of 2013 and renewed complaints by prisoners led Judge Allphin to issue his standing order.

A 2007 state law allows jails to collect costs from prisoners. However, it is considered restitution, requires a court order and ...

One of the Largest Solar Power Companies in the U.S. has Ties to Prison Slave Labor

One of the Largest Solar Power Companies in the U.S. has Ties to Prison Slave Labor

by Panagioti Tsolkas

Prisoners at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan, Oregon are making solar panels at a UNICOR factory for 93 cents an hour under a tax-break incentivized contract that claims to favor local manufacturing for a large photovoltaic system installed at two Oregon university campuses. The project was launched in 2012 by SolarCity, one of the most well-known solar energy installation companies in the country, founded by “cleantech” business magnate and poster-child for green capitalism, Elon Musk.

Instead of generating green jobs to boost the regional economy, as was intended by the Oregon Department of Energy’s $11.8 million in tax credits connected to the universities’ $27 million solar plan, the state simply bolstered corporate profits by allowing SolarCity to purchase through a vender, Suniva, which uses federal prisoners forced to work for sweatshop wages to manufacture solar panels.

According to the online environmental news outlet Grist, Suniva never responded to queries nor would UNICOR provide copies of contracts between the two, citing confidentiality provisions.

In an email to Grist, UNICOR spokesperson Marianne Cantwell claimed that the arrangement “provides inmates with ...

Study Finds Private Prisons Keep Prisoners Longer, Without Reducing Future Crime

Study Finds Private Prisons Keep Prisoners Longer, Without Reducing Future Crime

by Peter Kerwin

A new study finds that prisoners in private prisons are likely to serve as many as two to three more months behind bars than those assigned to public prisons and are equally likely to commit more crimes after release, despite industry claims to lower recidivism rates through high-quality and innovative rehabilitation programs.

The study is believed to be the first effort to compare time served in public and private prisons. Anita Mukherjee, an assistant professor of actuarial science, risk management and insurance at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin School of Business, sought to compare public and private prisons in terms of two key outcomes: time served and recidivism. With private prisons being paid on the basis of each occupied bed, there may be a financial incentive for the operators of those facilities to maximize the number of days served for each prisoner, which may not be in the best interests of the state.

“There is a basic fairness issue here – should prisoners be serving more time simply because they were randomly assigned to a private prison instead of a public one?” says Mukherjee. “The number ...

Seventh Circuit Rejects Prisoner’s 1983 Claim but Criticizes Controlling Precedent

Seventh Circuit Rejects Prisoner’s 1983 Claim but Criticizes Controlling Precedent

by Derek Gilna

It’s not often that a federal appellate court criticizes the precedent that it feels obligated to follow, but that is what happened in a civil rights lawsuit filed by Illinois state prisoner Earnest Shields.

Shields sued prison medical staff and the Illinois DOC’s private medical contractor, Wexford Health Sources, which he alleged had bungled his treatment for a torn tendon he suffered while lifting weights, causing him permanent injuries. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s dismissal of Shields’ constitutional claims, finding that while there was negligence by Wexford, Shields had failed to prove the necessary elements of “deliberate indifference” by individual defendants.

The controlling precedent criticized by the appellate court was Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), which held that “respondeat superior is not a basis for rendering municipalities liable under § 1983 for the constitutional torts of their employees.” Instead, the Monell court said, § 1983 liability can be found only if “the government’s own policy or custom had caused the violation.” The Monell standard has been extended to private companies acting under color of ...

Seventh Circuit Rules Wisconsin Prisoner’s Religious Rights Must be Honored

Seventh Circuit Rules Wisconsin Prisoner’s Religious Rights Must be Honored

by Derek Gilna

David A. Schlemm, a Navajo tribe member confined in a Wisconsin state prison, sought to exercise his right to practice certain religious rituals required by his faith. Those included celebrating Ghost Feast, wherein members of the tribe pray, dance and eat traditional foods, such as venison, to honor their ancestors.

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections (WDOC) denied that request and Schlemm’s other requests, including the right to wear a colored headband during religious services, and he filed suit in federal court under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc. The district court granted summary judgment to the WDOC but the Seventh Circuit reversed on April 21, 2015, finding a RLUIPA violation and ordering an injunction that required prison officials to provide Schlemm with venison and allow him to wear his headband during religious services.

RLUIPA provides that “No government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution ... even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on ...

Prison Legal News Settles New Mexico Jail Suit for $235,000

Prison Legal News Settles New Mexico Jail Suit for $235,000

by Derek Gilna

As many of our readers know, Prison Legal News is a strong proponent of breaking down barriers that restrict prisoners’ First Amendment rights. Jail officials at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Bernalillo County, New Mexico ...

California Court Upholds Prisoners’ Convictions for Fatal Jail Beating

California Court Upholds Prisoners’ Convictions for Fatal Jail Beating

by Derek Gilna

By all accounts, the Theo Lacy jail in Orange County, California is a dangerous place, one where prisoners have organized into race-based groups known as “CARs” that “tax” other prisoners by meting out punishment or discipline. Some guards have been accused of failing to prevent and even condoning the prisoner-on-prisoner violence.

In September 2006, prisoners at the jail focused their attention on John D. Chamberlain, who had been arrested for possession of child pornography. Chamberlain was beaten to death by a group of other prisoners amid evidence that several guards had condoned his and other beatings. [See: PLN, May 2013, p.50].

Five prisoners were charged with and convicted of second-degree murder in connection with Chamberlain’s death: Miguel Angel Guillen, Jared Louis Petrovich, Garrett Eugene Aguilar, Stephen Paul Carlstrom, Jr., and Raul Villafana. Defense attorneys attempted to have the charges dismissed based on outrageous government misconduct by jail deputies who failed to prevent the fatal assault.

The California Court of Appeal affirmed the convictions, holding there was no evidence that jail staff had “engaged in outrageous government conduct that impacted a protected right and prevented [defendants] from receiving ...

Texas Hospital Settles Suit over Improper Border Patrol Search for $1.1 Million

Texas Hospital Settles Suit over Improper Border Patrol Search for $1.1 Million

by Matt Clarke

The University Medical Center of El Paso and its emergency room physicians settled their part of a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by a New Mexico woman who was forcibly subjected to invasive searches ...

Georgia: $453,000 Jury Verdict against Private Jail Medical Contractor

Georgia: $453,000 Jury Verdict against Private Jail Medical Contractor

by David Reutter

A Georgia federal jury awarded $452,917.50 to a former detainee for injuries that resulted from inadequate medical care at the Hart County Jail.

Monica Robinson was on probation for a criminal offense on April 20 ...

Why are Alameda County Jails Forcing Women to Take Pregnancy Tests?

Why are Alameda County Jails Forcing Women to Take Pregnancy Tests?

by Susie Cagle, RH Reality Check

For pregnant women in Alameda County, California jails in the 1980s, the daily realities of life included shackled limbs, denial of prescribed medication, and, in the case of full-term miscarriage, at least one health-care worker who insisted a woman and her baby would be “better off” if the child died. During that time, rates of female incarceration spiked, and a troubled prison system attempted to make do. Women at the jail faced rates of miscarriage 50 times higher than the California average.

In 1986, advocates sued for a litany of offenses. And in 1989, they won. Policies changed. But their attempts at reforming women’s health unexpectedly opened the door for another form of abuse.

For at least several years, Alameda County sheriffs and medical personnel have routinely conducted pregnancy tests on thousands of prisoners, old and young, fertile and sterile, willing or not. It’s a practice that isn’t shared by any other jails in California. No one can say for exactly how long Alameda County jails have been forcing arrested women to take pregnancy tests, and no one can really explain why.

“It’s ironic ...

Connecticut Prisoner Obtains Settlement in Civil Rights Case

Connecticut Prisoner Obtains Settlement in Civil Rights Case

by Derek Gilna

Jerome Riddick, who has acknowledged he has a variety of mental disabilities, suffered for many years in the State of Connecticut’s prison system; at one point he was held in administrative segregation for six years without treatment. After filing multiple lawsuits challenging his conditions of confinement, Riddick finally won a settlement guaranteeing him appropriate mental health care as well as monetary damages.

Riddick alleged in his federal lawsuit that he is “a seriously mentally ill inmate” who had been diagnosed with “bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder.” Despite the fact that he has taken medication for those disorders since childhood, the Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC) denied him appropriate treatment, transferring him to the Northern Correctional Institution, which lacked treatment facilities for mentally ill prisoners.

Riddick was placed in administrative segregation at Northern, where he was in a sensory deprivation cell for 23 hours a day, forced to eat all meals in his cell, “removed from his cell only for recreation one hour a day and for showers three days a week, placed in full restraints when moved ...

Tragic Death at Washington Jail Results in Changes, $1.3 Million Settlement

Tragic Death at Washington Jail Results in Changes, $1.3 Million Settlement

by Lonnie Burton

Lyndsey Lason’s life was by no means perfect, but she didn’t deserve to die 13 days after being booked into the Snohomish County jail in Everett, Washington in 2011. Yet when her repeated complaints of breathing problems were ignored by the jail’s medical staff, that’s exactly what happened. Lason’s chest filled with fluid, collapsing her lungs; she died in the middle of the night in her cell. According to the county medical examiner, a simple chest X-ray would have saved her life.

In April 2014 the county agreed to pay Lason’s estate $1.3 million to settle her family’s damage claim, prior to a lawsuit being filed. At the insistence of the estate, the county also agreed to numerous improvements at the jail, including hiring a doctor, reducing the population, and forming an advisory committee to review jail policies and procedures.

On October 29, 2011, at the age of 27, Lason was arrested on misdemeanor warrants for theft and prostitution and booked into the Snohomish County jail. After falling out of her bunk a few days later, Lason complained to fellow prisoners and jail medical ...

Texas Grand Jury Indicts Two Jailers in Prisoner’s Death; Others Face Discipline

Texas Grand Jury Indicts Two Jailers in Prisoner’s Death; Others Face Discipline

On November 23, 2015, a grand jury in Tarrant County, Texas returned an indictment against two Arlington Police Department detention officers for one count each of criminally negligent homicide.

Pedro Medina, 33, and Steve Schmidt, 57, were working at the Arlington jail on March 20, 2015 when prisoner Jonathan Ryan Paul, 42, became disruptive. Paul was pepper sprayed and forcibly removed from his cell, then began to struggle while handcuffed and was restrained by up to four guards.

A 911 call was placed and paramedics arrived on the scene. Paul had no pulse but was revived and transported to Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital. He was placed in the intensive care unit with kidney injuries, respiratory failure, liver failure and a temperature of more than 103. His family made the decision to remove him from life support three days later.

An autopsy report issued by the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office found that physical restraints and the use of pepper spray had played a “significant role” in Paul’s in-custody death, though the cause of death was undetermined.

Prior to the indictment, Medina had been placed on administrative leave ...

West Virginia Supreme Court Undermines Prisoners’ Right to Sue for Rape

West Virginia Supreme Court Undermines Prisoners’ Right to Sue for Rape

In a March 27, 2014 decision, the Supreme Court for the state of West Virginia held that a female prisoner who claimed she had been raped multiple times by a guard could not sue the jail authority. The victim, identified only as A.B., had filed a complaint against the West Virginia Regional Jail Correctional Facility Authority (WVRJCFA) in Kanawah Circuit Court, arguing that officials at the Southern Regional Jail were negligent for allowing a guard to rape her 17 times. According to the complaint, the guard, who supervised the shower area on numerous occasions, would follow A.B. back to her cell and force her to have sex.

A.B. asserted that the WVRJCFA was responsible for the illegal acts of its employees and that her attacker violated her rights created under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).

At the close of discovery, the WVRJCFA moved for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity, arguing “... that it could not be held vicariously liable for the intentional, illegal acts of its employee and respondent had not demonstrated a ‘clearly established’ right which the WVRJCFA violated....”

The ...

Tulsa, Oklahoma Settles Four Wrongful Conviction Lawsuits for $810,000

Tulsa, Oklahoma Settles Four Wrongful Conviction Lawsuits for $810,000

by Matt Clarke

In January 2014, the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma agreed to pay $35,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a man claiming his wrongful conviction was the result of police corruption; that same month the city settled ...

$130,000 Settlement in Minnesota Prisoner’s Medical Negligence Suit

$130,000 Settlement in Minnesota Prisoner’s Medical Negligence Suit

by Matt Clarke

In June 2014, the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) announced that it would pay $130,000 to settle a medical negligence lawsuit brought by a prisoner who suffered permanent nerve damage due to medical neglect.

Eric Thomas, 32 ...

President Obama “Bans the Box” at Federal Government Agencies

President Obama “Bans the Box” at Federal Government Agencies

by Derek Gilna

One of the many challenges experienced by the more than 630,000 people released from prison each year in the United States is securing employment. And one of the biggest hurdles ex-prisoners face when seeking jobs is the box on most employment applications which asks whether or not they have been convicted of a crime. Late last year, with the urging of many prisoners’ rights advocates – including the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), which publishes Prison Legal News – President Obama announced an executive order “banning the box” for federal job applicants.

Obama made his announcement on November 2, 2015 at a drug treatment center in Newark, New Jersey. Joined by U.S. Senator Cory Booker and Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka, Obama also unveiled $8 million in federal grants to improve opportunities for released prisoners reentering society, including more funding for public housing. Further, he called on Congress to pass ban the box legislation.

In a speech at Rutgers University, President Obama said, “There are people who have gone through tough times. They’ve made mistakes. But with a little bit of help, they can get on ...

Washington State: Class-action Alleges DOC Policy of Denying Medical Care

Washington State: Class-action Alleges DOC Policy of Denying Medical Care

by Derek Gilna

A federal class-action suit filed on November 17, 2015 claims that the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) has promulgated and carried out a policy of denying necessary medical care to prisoners with serious health problems. According to the complaint, DOC officials often overrule their own clinicians who recommend medical treatment.

The “DOC denies patient-prisoners access to constitutional medical care by utilizing a healthcare preapproval system that regularly results in arbitrary and unsound decisions ... by allowing a committee of ... administrators who have little familiarity with the patient to override the clinical recommendations of the patient’s treating DOC practitioner and outside specialists,” the lawsuit states.

The four named plaintiffs in the case, who seek to represent a class of almost 17,000 prisoners in Washington’s prison system, suffer from a variety of undiagnosed, untreated or inadequately treated medical conditions, including stage-three kidney disease, painful hernias, wrist and hand pain, and other serious ailments causing chronic pain and suffering.

According to DOC policies, “Medical care for Washington prisoners is provided according to the terms of an ... Offender Health Plan (OHP).” If a prisoner requires care not specified ...

California Prisoner Exonerated but Now Faces Deportation

California Prisoner Exonerated but Now Faces Deportation

On November 23, 2015, a Los Angeles judge ordered the release of 46-year-old Luis Vargas, who had served 16 years in prison for sexual assault and other charges. Vargas, a legal immigrant prior to his arrest, was immediately taken into federal custody while officials investigated his immigration status because his green card had been revoked upon his conviction.

According to attorneys, witnesses had mistakenly identified Vargas because he lived near the crime scenes and had a similar tattoo as the “Teardrop Rapist,” who was linked to at least 35 sexual assaults in Los Angeles since 1996. Although Vargas continually maintained his innocence, he was convicted in 1999 and sentenced to 55 years in prison.

He then reached out to the California Innocence Project, pointing to reports of crimes identical to the ones he was convicted of committing, which had occurred while he was behind bars. Attorneys requested new DNA testing, which linked the crimes for which Vargas was serving time to others committed by the Teardrop Rapist.

“The best thing about this case was that technology had advanced to the point where we were able to determine that this DNA evidence could ...

Report Calls for End of Welfare and Food Stamp Restrictions for Felony Drug Offenders

Report Calls for End of Welfare and Food Stamp Restrictions for Felony Drug Offenders

by Derek Gilna

Congress should repeal the ban on Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) that prevents felony drug offenders from participating in those programs and, until it does, individual states should relax the ban so released prisoners have a better chance of rebuilding their lives. That’s the primary recommendation contained in a report by The Sentencing Project on the effects of the ban on former prisoners, especially women and their children.

In its 2013 report, “A Lifetime of Punishment: The Impact of the Felony Drug Ban on Welfare Benefits,” The Sentencing Project notes that the ban on TANF, more commonly known as welfare, and on SNAP benefits (food stamps), places a disproportionate hardship on women and blacks who have been released from prison following felony drug convictions.

The ban is one of the lesser-known effects of legislation passed by Congress in response to President Bill Clinton’s call during his first State of the Union address in 1992 to “end welfare as we know it.” Almost four years later, Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility and ...

Criticism of Congressional Mandate to Keep Immigration Detention Centers Full

by Derek Gilna and Joe Watson

Immigration reform advocates report little success with efforts to eliminate a little-known, controversial quota mandated by Congress that keeps approximately 34,000 undocumented immigrants incarcerated on a daily basis, including many who have committed no crime. Supporters of the quota contend it is an essential component of U.S. immigration policy, but critics complain it costs too much, makes no difference in terms of public safety and is simply unnecessary.

Measures to repeal the quota have been voted down or withdrawn by lawmakers who believe such changes would never pass. In addition, repeal efforts face strong opposition from conservative lawmakers who fear the release of undocumented immigrants and from private, for-profit prison companies that operate over 60% of immigration detention facilities.

The quota was established in 2007 in response to national concern over undocumented immigrants following the 9/11 attacks. The detainee quota, often referred to as the “detention-bed mandate” or “bed quota,” is written into the federal budget for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It requires ICE to “maintain a level of not less than 34,000 detention beds” at any ...

A Clean Slate: Prisoners Taking Advantage of Tattoo Removal Programs

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) is among the latest – and largest – agencies to join a growing national trend: providing prisoners with the opportunity to take advantage of a program that offers a real and tangible step towards rehabilitation and employability through free laser treatments to remove tattoos.

Prisoners in Los Angeles and elsewhere who have participated in such programs have praised them as a chance to literally wipe the slate clean and get a fresh start on life after incarceration.

The LASD joins other agencies that have purchased laser treatment equipment, or have had volunteer medical professionals help prisoners rid themselves of tattoos that are often a barrier to employment and socialization upon release. For example, South Dakota spent more than $60,000 on a laser treatment machine that can be transported to each of the state’s prisons. And for two decades, the Salt Lake City Area Gang Project has operated a gang tattoo removal program in conjunction with the University of Utah Medical Center.

“This is a good program that helps people,” said Detective Rich Stone of the Salt Lake City Metro Gang Unit. “They might have some memories of past behavior, but at ...

Report: Nearly One in Four Exonerations Involves Crimes that Never Occurred

A report issued by the National Registry of Exonerations in November 2013 found that 22% of the known exonerations in the U.S. resulted from “no-crime” convictions – that is, cases in which the offender was cleared of wrongdoing because the crime never happened. No-crime exonerations differ from those that involve a crime committed by another person, in that the latter tend to receive more media attention.

Of the 1,242 exonerations included in the Registry at the time of the report, 210 in four major categories were listed as being due to crimes that were never committed. Of those, child sex abuse cases topped the list – 75% of all child sex abuse exonerations involved no crimes. By comparison, no-crime homicide exonerations amounted to only 7% of total homicide exoneration cases, no-crime sexual assault exonerations totaled 14%, and more than half of drug crime exonerations – 55% – involved cases where no crime occurred.

The report cited a variety of factors behind exonerations in no-crime cases, most commonly because perjury or false accusations led to the conviction. According to the Registry, such factors occurred in 76% of no-crime exonerations. In many adult sex cases, for example, an alleged rape ...

Opposition to the Death Penalty Grows with High-Profile Support

Five high-powered, influential individuals have joined the call for abolishing the death penalty and a sixth may soon be joining their ranks, according to insiders in the Obama administration. The list of new capital punishment opponents includes two Supreme Court justices, a former U.S. president, a governor and the man generally credited with creating the drug cocktail used over the past 40 years to administer lethal injections.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is “close” to publicly opposing the death penalty, according to a long-time associate.

“He’s not there yet, but he’s close, and needs some help,” Harvard University law professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. told the Washington Post in a July 16, 2015 article. Ogletree, who has long opposed the death penalty, taught the president and First Lady Michelle Obama when both were students at Harvard.

“Even if he doesn’t change his mind in the next year and a half, I think the public’s point of view is going to influence him,” said Ogletree, who predicted the president will eventually throw his support to anti-death penalty advocates. “As a citizen, he can have an enormous amount of influence.”

Obama has in the past supported the death penalty ...

Pope Francis Calls for Worldwide Prison Reform, Support and Hope for Prisoners

Pope Francis has endeared himself to prisoners around the world and those who advocate on their behalf, visiting some of the world’s most dangerous criminals and offering hope and support to all behind bars, regardless of their religious beliefs. The pontiff even made his compassion for prisoners a centerpiece of his most recent trip to the United States, when he visited a prison in Philadelphia.

“A visit by the pope, it’s an extraordinary thing,” said Lou Giorla, the city’s prison commissioner, who oversaw preparations for the September 27, 2015 visit. “It’ll be a chance for the world to take a look.”

Pope Francis’ visit to the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia, which holds 2,800 prisoners, was one of 17 stops on his first U.S. tour and a potent reminder of the Argentine pontiff’s emphasis on social justice issues since being elected head of the Roman Catholic Church in March 2013.

“It’s really going to bring a level of humanity to the prison world and show that prisoners are people and deserve to be recognized,” said Ann Schwartzman, policy and program director for the Pennsylvania Prison Society, a prisoner advocacy group.

“I’d be glad to see ...

PLN Intervenes, Unseals Settlement in CCA Fair Labor Standards Act Case

PLN’s intervention in a federal lawsuit alleging Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) had improperly classified supervisors at two Kentucky prisons as being exempt from overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Kentucky’s Wage and Hour Act resulted in the court unsealing the settlement in the case.

The lawsuit included allegations that CCA had misclassified and wrongfully withheld overtime pay from current and former supervisory employees at the Otter Creek Correctional Center and Marion Adjustment Center, both of which have since closed. The parties reached a settlement agreement on November 21, 2013. In approving the settlement, the district court also granted the parties’ joint motion to seal two exhibits that contained “information concerning the amount that will be paid to each plaintiff if the settlement is approved” and “information pertaining to the plaintiff’s counsel’s attorney fees and costs.”

Prison Legal News moved to intervene on February 4, 2014 for the purpose of unsealing the exhibits related to the settlement. The court found that PLN met the conditions to intervene, as its motion was timely, its challenge to the order sealing the settlement exhibits presented “a question of law or fact in common” with the underlying action, and ...

Family of Prisoner Who Died from Allergic Reaction Settles Lawsuit for $2.4 Million

The family of a 22-year-old prisoner who died from a food allergy while he was held at the Snohomish County, Washington jail has settled a lawsuit against the facility, but an attorney for the family claimed the county lied about the amount of the settlement and lied about evidence in ...

Federal Court Certifies Class-action for Thousands of Detroit Prisoners, Enters Default Judgment

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Ludington certified a § 1983 class-action lawsuit affecting tens of thousands of people arrested and detained by the City of Detroit, and appointed a noted prisoners’ rights law firm in Chicago, Loevy and Loevy, to represent the lead plaintiff, Jonathan A. Brown. The judge held that two classes of former prisoners could present claims – those who were held by the city for more than 48 hours without receiving probable cause hearings, and a second class of those held over 60 hours without being provided mattresses or probable cause hearings.

Brown originally filed his lawsuit in 2010, alleging, “First, Defendant does not provide bedding when an arrestee is detained overnight or for more than sixteen hours. Second, Defendant regularly detains arrestees for more than forty-eight hours without a judicial determination of probable cause.” Brown’s request for certification of another class, consisting of prisoners who did not receive at least two meals a day, was denied. The size of the proposed first class was estimated at “about 108,000,” and the second class “about 30,000.”

The lawsuit arose out of Brown’s arrest in September 2007, when he was arrested without a ...

Numerous Deaths at Nevada Prison Raise Questions, Concerns

The ACLU and relatives of Nevada prisoners have raised concerns in the wake of numerous deaths at one state prison, including four in a span of less than one month in 2013. Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) officials said that of the deaths at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center’s regional medical facility, most resulted from natural causes. At least 47 prisoners died at the same prison in 2014 and 2015 combined.

On October 4, 2013, convicted cop killer Larry Peck was found unconscious and unresponsive in his cell. Peck, 62, had been incarcerated since 2003 for the murder of Reno police officer John Bohach during a standoff; he was serving a life sentence for first-degree murder, along with convictions for resisting arrest and obstructing an officer with a deadly weapon. He was pronounced dead at the Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center; authorities said they did not suspect foul play.

Only one day later, prison officials discovered the body of prisoner Richard Ferst in his cell. Ferst, 52, had been incarcerated since July 2011 and was serving a 3-to-20 year sentence for burglary, grand larceny and possession of stolen property. Foul play was also ruled out in Ferst’s death.

A 31-year-old ...

Denver Wins Sexual Harassment Suit Filed by Former Jail Captain; Tenth Circuit Affirms

by Matt Clarke

On May 29, 2014, a Colorado federal jury found in favor of the City of Denver in a lawsuit brought by a former jail captain who was allegedly sexually harassed by another employee and subjected to daily sexual harassment by prisoners, which her superiors refused to address. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the judgment in the case in September 2015.

Former jail captain Cheryl Arabalo, 45, filed a federal civil rights action against fellow jail captain Silver Gutierrez and the City of Denver. According to court documents, Gutierrez served a 75-day suspension without pay as punishment for asking Arabalo to expose her breasts and, at another time, asking her to pull up her shirt and sit on his lap. Arabalo, in turn, was fired after Gutierrez reported her for improperly withdrawing money from the Denver Sheriff’s Foundation (DSF) bank accounts.

Arabalo founded DSF in 2005 to provide assistance to sheriff’s department employees in emergencies. Arabalo and Gutierrez were once close friends, and both held positions in DSF. At the time of the embezzlement accusation, Arabalo served as president of DSF and Gutierrez was the foundation’s treasurer. A grand jury failed to return an indictment in the embezzlement case ...

Two Suicides at Privately-operated Pennsylvania Facility

Officials in Delaware County, Pennsylvania have been tight-lipped about the recent suicides of two prisoners at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility, fearing wrongful death lawsuits.

On May 26, 2015, Janene Wallace, 35, hung herself using her bra while serving time for a probation violation. Just weeks later, 46-year-old Richard Dandrea committed suicide by hanging himself with the rope from a laundry bag. Both prisoners had histories of mental illness.

Philadelphia-based attorney David Inscho said on July 17, 2015 that he had been retained by both families to review and investigate the cases for potential legal action. “A serious investigation is warranted to determine whether or not those [suicide prevention] guidelines in place are adequate and the training of their personnel is adequate,” he said.

The George W. Hill Correctional Facility is operated by Community Education Centers (CEC), a private company that took over operation of the prison after the sudden departure of the previous contractor, The GEO Group, in 2008. Following the suicides, CEC issued a statement saying that it took the matter “very seriously” and that “appropriate actions” were taken after an investigation.

Records from the Delaware County medical examiner’s office indicate that at least six suicides ...

Oklahoma Prisoners Develop Software which Could Save the State Millions

Oklahoma legislators have estimated the state could save upwards of $20 million annually if a computer software program developed by two prisoners at the medium-security Joseph Harp Correctional Center is expanded statewide.

Authorities said the facility began using the program to track prisoners’ meals in the fall of 2011, according to Jerry Massie, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC). The creators of the software – whom officials refused to name other than saying one is a convicted murderer and the other a sex offender – have already expanded it to include a wide range of money-saving monitoring.

“It’s a pretty neat program. It’s all done by the direction of the supervisor (William Weldon), one of these guys who’s kind of, what do you call it, thinking outside the box,” said state Rep. Bobby Cleveland, chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, which has jurisdiction over the state’s prisons. “They built a system that could save the state millions of dollars. I want to get the state using this thing.”

Cleveland said the software is based on bar-coding technology and was initially used to track prisoners through food lines to ensure they don’t eat twice. The ...

$183,000 in Settlements for Sexually Abused Pennsylvania Prisoners

Pennsylvania prison officials have paid a total of $183,000 to settle lawsuits brought by three prisoners who alleged that guards at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Pittsburgh physically and sexually abused them.

One of the federal civil rights actions was filed in February 2012 against two guards and five current ...

Ohio Prisoner’s Estate Awarded $350,000

The estate of Brandon Copas, a 27-year-old prisoner serving a nine-year sentence for aggravated vehicular homicide at the Warren Correctional Institution in Lebanon, Ohio, was awarded $350,000 in damages for the negligent medical care that Copas received after he was assaulted by another prisoner.

According to the complaint, on ...

Colorado Court Finds Book Limitation Policy Violates Prisoner’s Religious Rights, but Case Reversed on Appeal

A federal district court held that a Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) policy which limits prisoners in administrative segregation to having no more than two personal books at a time violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The court limited its ruling to the plaintiff’s as-applied claim ...

Conn. Guard Gets 90 Days, Probation for Sex with Prisoner

Conn. Guard Gets 90 Days, Probation for Sex with Prisoner

On September 1, 2015, Jeff Bromley, 47, a guard at the Janet S. York Correctional Institution in Niantic, Connecticut, pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 90 days in jail on a charge of second-degree unlawful restraint for having a sexual relationship with a female prisoner. According to court documents, Bromley had sex with the unidentified prisoner in the basement and laundry room of her housing unit, took pictures of her with his cell phone, and gave her snacks and small gifts.

Bromley’s plea agreement includes two years of probation following his release and a permanent protective order against any contact with his victim. He will not be allowed to reapply for his job at the prison, and also faces a civil lawsuit. Bromley was placed on administrative leave last year, then fired following his arrest in February 2015. The prisoner stated she had sex with three guards and was worried she might be pregnant. Charges are still pending against the other two guards implicated in the case, Matt Gillette and Kareem Dawson.

Source: www.courant.com

 

News in Brief

Alabama: Former Dale County jail prisoner Trawick Redding, Jr. filed a federal lawsuit on July 28, 2015 claiming guards Zeneth Glenn and Ryan Mittlebach tortured and assaulted him, and inflicted cruel and unusual punishment, by using a large Burmese python to intimidate him during his jail stay. His attorney, Martin Weinberg, said, “We think this is a very serious matter that should be dealt with. This was not just a garden snake that somebody just found on the ground walking into the jail or the woods by the jail. This was something that was planned out as a means to control, torture and harass the inmates.” Redding’s suit seeks compensatory damages and $3 million in punitive damages.

Arizona: Pinal County Sheriff’s officials announced on July 10, 2015 that prisoner Geraldo Beltran-Torres would face new charges after being found in possession of more than 30 small bags of methamphetamine. Beltran-Torres was among some 380 prisoners transferred to the Pinal County jail from a private prison near Kingman operated by MTC after riots rendered that facility uninhabitable. In total, around 1,100 prisoners were moved to jails and other facilities in the wake of the unrest.

Australia: Detainees housed at an ...


 

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