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Prison Legal News: January, 2016

Issue PDF
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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

$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 ...

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 ...