by Alex Friedmann*
It sounds like such a simple question: do private prisons save money? The answer, however, is dependent on a number of factors – including how “saving money” is defined.
Consider that in 2013, the nation’s largest for-profit prison company, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), made $300.8 million in net profit on gross revenue of $1.69 billion. Thus, the company achieved $300.8 million in savings over operational expenses at its prisons, jails and other detention facilities. But how much of that $300.8 million went to taxpayers or reverted to state treasuries or county coffers?
None. Those “savings” went to CCA in the form of corporate profit.
Over the past three decades there have been dozens of studies and analyses of cost comparisons between public and privately-operated prisons – by academics, government agencies and independent organizations – all attempting to answer the elusive question of whether private prisons save money. This is not one of those attempts.
Instead, rather than trying to determine if prison privatization results in savings due to the shifting of costs from public agencies, this article takes an opposite approach by identifying costs that are shifted from privately-operated facilities to the ...
Privately-operated federal prisons, also known as contract prisons, have more violence, use-of-force incidents and contraband seizures than facilities run by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), among other findings in an August 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
The 86-page report examined data from 14 private prisons that contract with the BOP; those CAR (Criminal Alien Requirement) facilities hold around 27,000 non-citizen federal prisoners who are subject to deportation after completing their prison terms. The data collected was compared to 14 BOP institutions with similar demographics.
The OIG also visited three of the private prisons – the Giles W. Dalby Correctional Facility and Eden Detention Center in Texas, and the Rivers Correctional Institution in North Carolina. All had been cited by the BOP for more than one safety and security problem, though “[n]one of the three prisons lost its ACA accreditation because of these security related deficiencies,” the report stated.
The facilities examined by the OIG were operated by a trio of for-profit companies: GEO Group, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Management & Training Corp. (MTC). The BOP paid the companies $639 million to run all ...
Over the past several years, the Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) has issued a series of orders that revise an October 2013 order related to rule changes for Inmate Calling Services (ICS). The PSC issued its most recent directive in February 2016, adopting rate caps set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
For decades, phone calls made by prisoners have posed a financial hardship for their friends and family members who pay for the calls, while providing huge profits for the telecom companies that hold monopoly prison and jail ISC contracts. “Commission” kickbacks paid to the government agencies that award the contracts have helped drive higher phone rates. [See: PLN, April 2011, p.1].
The PSC’s new rules considerably change the ICS landscape in Alabama.
In February 2014, the FCC implemented interim interstate rate caps, causing several ICS providers to inform prison and jail officials that they were ending commission kickbacks for interstate calls. Before the rate caps, a 15-minute interstate call from a state prison in Alabama cost $17.30 while an intrastate (in-state) call cost $6.75. The FCC’s rate caps limited interstate collect calls to $0.25/min. and prepaid/debit calls to $0.21/min. [See ...
PLN has opposed the private prison industry since we began publishing in 1990; back then the industry was in its infancy, having started in 1983 in its modern incarnation. Besides the political and moral implications of farming out correctional functions to for-profit corporations, there has been the well-documented reality that private prisons tend to be even worse than government-run facilities in such areas as safety, transparency and staffing levels. Nor has there been any evidence that they actually save the government money.
So it was a surprise when I heard the U.S. Department of Justice’s announcement in August 2016 that it planned to phase out its use of private prisons because, well, they were less safe and more violent than their Bureau of Prisons (BOP) counterparts and, by the way, there was no evidence they were any cheaper.
That it took the federal government a scant 33 years to realize this is a testament to the fact that they do not read Prison Legal News, or any other independent media outlet that has reported extensively on the private prison industry. This month’s cover story on private prison cost-shifting by PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann is a brief summary of ...
On March 30, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling that had permitted the federal government’s pretrial seizure of a criminal defendant’s untainted assets. Sila Luis, charged with health care fraud, possessed approximately $2 million in assets that were unconnected to her alleged crime, and wanted to use a portion of those funds to hire a criminal defense attorney. The government seized the funds, however, preventing her from retaining the attorney of her choice. The Supreme Court held that the seizure violated her Sixth Amendment right to counsel.
According to the Court, a “federal statute provides that a court may freeze before trial certain assets belonging to a criminal defendant accused of violations of federal health care or banking laws,” citing 18 U.S.C. § 1345. Those assets include “(1) property ‘obtained as a result of’’ the crime, (2) property ‘traceable’ to the crime, and (3) other ‘property of equivalent value.’”
In the course of the criminal proceeding before the district court, the parties had stipulated “that an unquantified amount of revenue not connected to the indictment [had] flowed into some of the accounts,” and that Luis had “revenue not connected ...
On August 25, 2016, a federal district court in Oregon denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by former prisoner Danica Love Brown, who had filed a class-action complaint naming Stored Value Cards, Inc. d/b/a Numi Financial and Central National Bank and Trust Company as defendants.
Brown’s complaint stated she “was arrested by Portland Police in November, 2014, during a peaceful protest of a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to charge Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. Ms. Brown was charged with interfering with a peace officer ... [and] was jailed for 8 hours at the Multnomah County Jail.”
Jail officials confiscated $30.97 in cash from Brown when she was booked into the facility. Upon her release, they did not return her money but instead gave her a prepaid release debit card with a balance of $30.97.
Brown alleged that “release cards are extremely profitable for Defendants, who charge their unwitting and unwilling customers exorbitant fees to possess and/or use the cards, [and who] charge some consumers a $5.95 ‘monthly’ service charge, [or] ... a $3.50 ‘weekly’ service charge.” She claimed violations of the federal Electronic Fund Transfer ...
Prison Legal News has long reported on the financial partnership between for-profit prison firm GEO Group and Florida politicians – a “legacy of corruption,” as detailed in PLN’s March 2011 cover story. GEO’s Political Action Committee (PAC) in Florida, where the company is headquartered, was disbanded in 2011 after a state audit found the PAC’s partisan contributions were in excess of the amount allowed by Florida law. [See: PLN, Feb. 2012, p.19]. More accusations of improper political influence were leveled against GEO in 2012 when the FBI looked into the relationship between the corporation and former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom. [See: PLN, Feb 2012, p.34].
Despite this past scrutiny, on August 9, 2016 the Miami Herald reported that the GEO Group’s donations still continue to influence Florida policymakers. According to the newspaper, GEO has directed at least $288,000 to politically-connected committees operated by Rebecca and Joe Negron – a Congressional candidate and sitting state Senator known as a “power couple” in Florida politics. Another GEO Group political favorite is former presidential candidate Marco Rubio, to whom GEO donated $80,400 between July and August 2016 alone.
According to www.followthemoney.org, which tracks campaign contributions ...
The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office’s (OPSO) administration of New Orleans’ Electronic Monitoring Program (EMP) was an almost “total failure,” according to the city’s Inspector General, Ed Quatrevaux, who found deficiencies in the program compromised public safety and wasted money.
OPSO Sheriff Marlin Gusman took control of the EMP in 2010 despite having submitted a higher bid during a competitive bidding process. Prior to OPSO’s administration of the program, from 2007 to 2009 defendants subject to electronic monitoring were overseen by a private contractor, Total Sentencing Alternatives Program (T-SAP). T-SAP lost its contract following criticism that it failed to timely respond to violations.
OPSO’s management of the monitoring program came under scrutiny in September 2014 following the murder of Richard “Chris” Yeager, a Domino’s Pizza driver. Authorities put two teens with ankle monitors at the scene; one had missed curfew the night before by 90 minutes, and during that time committed a carjacking. A deputy never followed up on the curfew violation.
The Inspector General’s Office examined the EMP and issued its report in two parts. The first determined that “neither the City nor OPSD implemented effective financial controls or ensured the program’s fiscal accountability.” Specifically, the report found ...
In 2014, Wisconsin’s Fox Lake Correctional Institution (Fox Lake) executed a consent decree with the state Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) in response to complaints about high levels of copper and lead in the prison’s water supply.
WDNR had first given Fox Lake a Notice of Noncompliance in December 2008, which noted the facility’s water had a level of copper “greater than the maximum concentration, or action level that is allowed.” By 2009 that problem had been corrected, but in 2012 another test revealed the same water supply had high levels of lead, plus excessive amounts of copper had returned. Fox Lake has exceeded maximum copper levels 18 times and lead levels six times since 2008.
The prison has also tested high for levels of manganese, which, although not dangerous to adults in most cases, causes water to taste and smell bad. Prisoners at the facility had stated the water was routinely yellow or brown, contained dark sediment and had a foul taste.
Fox Lake, which utilizes four wells for its water supply, agreed to provide plans and specifications within ninety days of the execution of the consent decree for how it intended to remediate the water quality issues ...
by Joe Watson and Matt Clarke
Being pregnant is stressful – just ask any woman who has been pregnant. Incarceration adds to that stress and removes support systems, so prisoners face problems during their pregnancy, birthing and postpartum recovery that are difficult for outsiders to imagine.
The situation can be exacerbated by prison and jail staff. Improper use of restraints on pregnant prisoners – especially during labor – and staff indifference can endanger the health and safety of both the mother and unborn child.
According to a 2010 report by the National Women’s Law Center and the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, 5% of women entering state prisons and 6% of women in jails are pregnant. Around 2,000 women give birth each year in U.S. correctional facilities.
A Massachusetts jail prisoner identified as Kenzie W. had experienced five previous pregnancies. She was four months pregnant when incarcerated, and on January 23, 2013 she had her first delivery behind bars, which was a waking nightmare.
“At 7 a.m., when active labor started, the jail medical staff denied that I was actually in the late stage of labor, but from experience, I knew it was time,” said Kenzie ...
In a pair of rulings, the Oregon Court of Appeals held that prisoners incarcerated in other states under the Interstate Corrections Compact (ICC) may challenge the conditions of their confinement in habeas corpus actions against Oregon prison officials.
In 1979, the Oregon legislature voted to codify the ICC under state law. Article IV § 5 specifies that prisoners transferred to other states retain all rights that they would have had if incarcerated in Oregon. Under § 8, prisoners also retain their right “‘to participate in ... any action or proceeding in which the inmate could have participated if confined in any appropriate institution of the sending state located within such state.’”
Oregon prisoner Jacob Henry Barrett has been transferred to several different states over a multi-year period. [See: PLN, Sept 2014, p.36]. Most recently he was incarcerated in Florida under the ICC.
The Florida DOC’s grooming policy prohibits beards and long hair, while Oregon does not have a similar grooming policy. Barrett claimed that while in Florida he was “forcibly shaved once a week or more ‘under the threat of adverse administrative action, as well as physical abuse.’”
He filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus ...
Nathson E. Fields spent 18 years in prison due to a conveniently “lost” file that would have cleared him. Fields was a member of the El Rukn street gang when he was convicted of a double homicide in 1986. After a dozen years on death row and another six in general population, he was granted a retrial and cleared in 2009, then filed a wrongful conviction suit.
On April 28, 1984, at about 10:15 a.m., Talman Hickman and Jerome “Fuddy” Smith were shot to death on Chicago’s East 39th Street. Over 100 witnesses were interviewed, including a woman who described two black men with a “light complexion” fleeing the crime scene. Both wore ski masks but appeared to be in their “early 20s.” Fields had a dark complexion, was 30 years old and did not fit the description given to detectives.
Fields’ “street file” was kept by Chicago detective David O’Callaghan. Defense attorneys requested the file during Fields’ trial but prosecutors and police officers denied its existence; hiding street files was common practice in the Chicago Police Department. Years after his conviction, Fields’ file was found buried in a cabinet with cold cases dating back to 1944 ...
Chaunte D. Ott received a $6.5 million settlement from the City of Milwaukee for spending over 12 years in prison on a wrongful murder conviction, after being cleared by DNA evidence that connected the crime to a serial killer.
Ott, now 42, was convicted of the August 1995 murder ...
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held in August 2015 that Congress is authorized to criminalize sexual assaults in facilities where federal prisoners are held by agreement with state and local governments.
On March 5, 2009, Sabil Mumin Mujahid drove to Anchorage, Alaska’s Nesbett Courthouse for a bail hearing on state drug charges. Officers found a firearm in the trunk of his car and arrested him.
Mujahid was jailed on a federal firearms charge and his bail was revoked for the state drug offense. As a result, he was confined in the Anchorage Correctional Complex (ACC), which houses state prisoners as well as federal prisoners pursuant to a contract with the U.S. Marshals Service.
While at ACC, Mujahid repeatedly sexually assaulted other prisoners. He was charged with several federal sex offenses, including aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse and abusive sexual contact in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2241, 2242 and 2244.
Mujahid was convicted of the federal firearms charge and sentenced to 120 months in prison. After the drug offense was resolved, he was transferred to a federal prison in Washington state on June 28, 2010.
He then moved to dismiss the federal sex offenses, arguing that ...
The Kentucky Court of Appeals held that a trial court improperly granted summary judgment to the defendants in a civil action alleging a prisoner received negligent medical care at the Hardin County Detention Center (HCDC).
HCDC contracts with Southern Health Partners, Inc. (SHP), a for-profit company, to provide medical care to its prisoners. SHP provides nursing and medical services to almost 200 jails nationwide. To fulfill its contract at HCDC, the company contracted with Dr. John Adams, who employed Elizabeth Walkup, an advanced registered nurse practitioner, to assist him. SHP employed nurses and other medical personnel at HCDC.
Mark Sietsema was booked into the jail in the fall of 2009. He advised medical staff that he suffered from diverticulitis and previously had 16 inches of his colon removed due to the disease.
On April 24, 2010, Sietsema filed a medical request indicating he had been vomiting and feverish for the last two days. The next day, a nurse documented abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fever and constipation; she gave him nausea medication and prescribed a liquid diet. Nurse Heather Kennedy examined Sietsema on May 8, recording complaints of nausea and vomiting. Kennedy and Nurse Brenda Brown had him placed in observation ...
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held on November 23, 2015 that Fed.R.Civ.P. 15 operates substantively, not chronologically, allowing a plaintiff to amend in whatever order he or she deems fit, provided there is compliance with the requirements of the rule.
Before the court was the appeal of Sergio C. Ramirez, who had sued the County of San Bernadino, its sheriff and several deputies. He alleged that San Bernadino sheriff’s deputies stopped him in his driveway and “allegedly beat, tased and detained him despite his compliance with their commands.” He spent 15 days in jail and two different immigration detention centers before being released.
The merits of his claims, however, were not at issue in Ramirez’s appeal. Rather, it focused on the district court’s dismissal after the case was removed from state court. After being removed, the parties entered into a written stipulation that provided Ramirez could amend his complaint to dismiss certain defendants. The district court altered the time to amend from twenty to ten days.
Once the First Amended Complaint was filed on May 22, 2013, the defendants moved to dismiss and for a more definite statement. Under local rule 7-9, Ramirez was required ...
When Anthony Gay, then-19 years old, was sentenced by an Illinois court for a 1993 probation violation and strong arm robbery that netted a hat and a dollar bill, he was sent to prison for 7 years. But his actions while incarcerated, driven by his mental illness, resulted in years of solitary confinement and additional criminal convictions, chiefly due to a series of assaults on guards, including throwing feces and urine out of the food slot in his cell door. By 2013, his sentence had been increased to 97 years and his release date pushed back to around 2091.
Luckily for Gay, Scott Main, an attorney at the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University, took a look at a series of convictions for 17 assaults on guards that occurred over a 10-month period in 2000 and 2001. Main noticed that the sentences had been improperly run consecutively, or stacked on one another. The law only allowed them to be added to Gay’s original robbery conviction or a subsequent 1998 prison assault conviction. The State’s Attorney agreed and a judge granted a motion to modify Gay’s sentence on January 31, 2014. His new release date was August 2018, just a week ...
Almost two years after a prisoner committed suicide at the Los Angeles County Jail, the county settled a lawsuit brought by his parents for $1.6 million. [See: PLN, March 2016, p.1].
Austin Losorelli hung himself at the jail despite the fact that both he and his father, Los Angeles Police Department lieutenant Joe Losorelli, had informed jail personnel that Austin was hallucinating and hearing voices, had previously attempted suicide and had been hospitalized for psychotic behavior. Jail staff apparently concerned themselves more with protecting Losorelli, 23, from other prisoners due to his status as the son of a law enforcement officer than they did with protecting him from himself.
Losorelli was initially arrested for assaultive behavior and resisting arrest, and booked into the LA County Jail. His mental illness and suicidal behavior were noted, and the judge sentenced him to probation and ordered his conditional release to a Residential Treatment Program for people with mental health problems.
Instead of transferring him to the treatment program, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) sent Losorelli to his parents’ home where he awaited placement in the program. His condition deteriorated and his parents requested that he be rearrested so he would ...
In an unusual turn of events, a former prisoner was appointed to Connecticut’s Parole Board. While ex-prisoners are typically not considered as parole board members, state officials decided that Kenneth F. Ireland was a qualified candidate.
In 1989, when he was 18 years old, Ireland was convicted of raping and murdering Barbara Pelkey, a mother of four.
Several people had connected Ireland to the 1986 murder, including someone who claimed she witnessed his confession. The witness later admitted that she was intoxicated at the time and confused in her recollection, according to The Daily Mail. Ireland received a 50-year prison sentence.
Although he asserted his innocence, his claims fell on deaf ears until 2009. DNA testing was performed after the Connecticut Innocence Project became involved in the case, and the test results indicated another man, Kevin Benefield, had committed the crimes for which Ireland had been convicted. Benefield was subsequently sentenced to 60 years for raping and murdering Pelkey.
Ireland was exonerated and released in August 2009 after spending 21 years – more than half his life – in prison.
Vivian Blackford, a member of the Connecticut Sentencing Committee, originally raised the idea of having Ireland serve on the Parole ...
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that a lower court did not follow controlling Supreme Court precedent when granting summary judgment to prison officials on a mentally ill prisoner’s restraint chair-related claim.
Since childhood, Pennsylvania prisoner Leonard G. Young, Jr. has suffered from severe bipolar and schizoaffective disorders. He ...
After a guard at a South Carolina jail repeatedly struck a prisoner who was being strapped into a restraint chair, York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant took decisive action. He fired the jailer who told a television station and state investigators about a video recording of the incident. Nothing was done to the guard who struck the prisoner, who later died due to unrelated causes.
Joshua Grose, 34, was violently mentally ill when he was arrested for fatally running over his stepmother and a neighbor with a stolen car. He was booked into the York County Detention Center in October 2013. Two days later, Grose died in a restraint chair from self-inflicted injuries he received banging his head against a cell wall. [See: PLN, Aug. 2016, p.28].
Because he was the second jail prisoner to die in the restraint chair, Bryant held a news conference and showed hours of video coverage of jailers attempting to subdue a struggling Grose, who writhed and spit on them. Included in the footage was video showing a deputy striking Grose in the abdomen repeatedly as Grose was being strapped into the chair.
That portion caught jail guard Mike Billioni’s attention. He discussed the disturbing ...
The Kansas Federal Public Defenders’ Office has challenged a scheme whereby officials at a detention center in Leavenworth, Kansas operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) secretly video-recorded confidential attorney-client meetings. As a result, on August 10, 2016 a Kansas federal district court ordered the practice to “cease and desist” immediately. U.S. District Court Judge Julie A. Robinson also ordered that all originals and copies of such recordings be surrendered immediately to the court.
The previously-undisclosed surveillance practice came to light when a private attorney, Jacqueline Rokusek, was advised by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Kansas that she had a conflict of interest in representing a client. She was allowed to inspect video recordings made at the CCA detention center and discovered that dozens of supposedly confidential meetings between other attorneys and their clients were on the same disks. She then alerted the Public Defenders’ Office and defense bar, igniting a firestorm of protest from criminal defense attorneys.
Experts noted that although the recordings of the meetings apparently did not include sound, the faces of the participants, documents and exhibits discussed were clearly visible. The words spoken could also be gleaned by lip-reading experts, they ...
On June 24, 2016, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) announced that 67 colleges and universities had been selected to offer courses to imprisoned students at over 100 federal and state prisons through the DOE’s recently-implemented Second Chance Pell Pilot Program.
The majority of the courses will be provided through public two-year and four-year postsecondary schools. Some plan to offer on-site classes within correctional facilities, while others plan a hybrid approach – a combination of classroom instruction and online coursework – and some will offer online-only curricula.
According to a DOE press release, “The selected sites demonstrated a focus on supporting successful reentry. Many did this by evaluating the local labor market and providing educational programs that would prepare students with the training and credentials to improve their prospects for employment post-release.” Additional academic, career and social support systems are an added benefit offered by many of the participating schools.
PLN previously reported that the research backing the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program is convincing. According to a 2013 RAND Corporation study, prisoners who participate in educational programs are 43% less likely to recidivate within three years of release than those who do not engage in such programs ...
GEO Group and Accurate Background, Inc. have been sued in federal court in New York for violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) when conducting criminal background checks on GEO job applicants. The suit, filed on October 30, 2015, seeks class-action status.
The FCRA requires employers taking an “adverse action” against a job applicant based on a background check to provide the applicant with a “pre-adverse action” notice that includes a copy of the report and a summary of their rights under the FCRA.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Eric Keels, who was later joined by co-plaintiff Sandra Inman, alleged GEO Group and Accurate Background failed to comply with the FCRA’s requirements before denying employment to prospective GEO job applicants. Accurate Background also allegedly failed to notify applicants it was providing GEO with background screening reports and did not follow procedures to ensure the accuracy and completeness of those reports.
Keels had a job offer from GEO Group, the nation’s second-largest for-profit prison company, but the offer was rescinded following a background screening. “I’m hoping to help ensure that GEO Group and Accurate Background, Inc., follow the law so that people who want to come work for GEO Group ...
Medical Cell #1 became a “burial crypt” inside the David L. Moss Detention Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma when Elliot Williams, a mentally-ill 37-year-old veteran, lay paralyzed with a broken neck on the concrete floor, naked, cold and hungry, as he pleaded for medical attention for five days in October 2011. No jail employees came to his aid; instead, guards mocked him and nurses accused him of faking. Surveillance cameras watched silently as Williams’ condition worsened until, on the sixth morning, he died of complications from his neck injury.
Nearly five years later, on July 20, 2016, U.S. District Court Judge John Dowdell issued a key ruling that allowed a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Williams’ family to proceed. “A significant number of jail staff were aware that Mr. Williams did not walk, stand, sit up, eat, or drink on his own for days,” the ruling stated. “A reasonable jury could find that Mr. Williams’ needs were obvious to any layperson. They could also find that the medical unit-wide attitude of inhumanity and indifference shown to him, which resulted in the delay and denial of medical care in the face of his symptoms that were obviously indicative of ...
The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court ruling that denied appointment of counsel to a prisoner because he received legal help from another prisoner.
Ladell Henderson had a fifth grade education and had been diagnosed with a low IQ when he filed suit against prison officials for deficient medical care. Incarcerated at Illinois’ Stateville Correctional Center since 1995, he was found to have high blood pressure in 1999.
The following year he was diagnosed with diabetes. In 2009, after experiencing diabetic hypoglycemia and tremulous convulsions, Henderson was informed by a physician that he had a “bad kidney problem” and would die without dialysis. He subsequently learned that he had not been provided certain treatments over the years that could have prevented his kidney failure.
In October 2010, with the help of another prisoner, Henderson filed a federal lawsuit alleging deliberate indifference to his medical needs and requesting appointment of counsel because he had little education and a low IQ.
The district court acknowledged “that his filings have been prepared by other inmates,” but still denied Henderson’s request for appointment of counsel.
In July 2011, Henderson filed an amended complaint, a settlement proposal, a ...
The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) does not overcome the Alabama Department of Corrections’ (ADOC) “short hair policy” for prisoners, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held.
The ruling was issued on remand from the U.S. Supreme Court in light of its opinion in Holt v. Hobbs, 135 S.Ct. 853 (2015) [PLN, Aug. 2015, p.50], which permitted a Muslim prisoner to grow a half-inch beard in accordance with his religious beliefs.
The case at issue dates back to 1993 and was brought by Native American prisoners who asserted the ADOC’s grooming policy violated their religious requirement to wear their hair unshorn. The Eleventh Circuit initially affirmed the district court’s judgment that the policy did not violate RLUIPA. [See: PLN, Sept. 2014, p.43].
On remand from the Supreme Court, the plaintiffs raised three arguments addressing why Holt should change the outcome in their case. The Court of Appeals addressed and rejected each argument.
First, the plaintiffs alleged the district court had failed to engage in a “focused inquiry” that the ADOC’s grooming policy was the least restrictive means of furthering its compelling interest in prison safety and security. The appellate court disagreed, holding the ...
Opponents of mass incarceration have notched several small but significant victories by successfully pressuring backers of the private prison industry to divest almost $60 million from Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group, the two largest private prison companies in the United States. Both firms trade on the New York Stock Exchange.
Online civil rights organization Color of Change announced in April 2014 that a year-long campaign to push 150 companies to divest from private prisons had persuaded Scopia Capital Management, DSM North America and Amica Mutual Insurance to sell off their private prison stock in the final quarter of 2013.
“Companies that continue to stay with their investments in CCA and GEO Group are making a real decision about where they want their money and the ethical obligations they have to the greater society,” said Rashad Robinson, Color of Change’s executive director.
Scopia Capital, an asset management giant, dropped 1.5 million GEO Group shares, effectively decreasing its private prison stock by more than 25%. Scopia has shed 59% of its private prison holdings since December 2012 and, according to Color of Change, has committed to full divestment.
DSM, a Dutch chemical company, sold off all ...
Three years ago, the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) moved to dismiss its federal contempt of court proceeding that cited staff shortages, broken locks and an overcrowding problem that resulted in prisoners sleeping on the floor at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, Georgia. Since that October 2013 filing, the jail has “come into compliance” on two of the three issues, stated SCHR attorney Melanie Velez.
The county replaced all the faulty locks and outsourced prisoners to other facilities. This decreased the number of staff needed at the jail, but county officials acknowledged they still had to hire additional guards. The dismissal of the contempt proceeding required the county to submit a plan to address staffing needs, and the federal district court continued to monitor the jail.
The court had previously found inhumane conditions at the facility and approved a consent decree in 2006; those conditions included inadequate medical care, violence, severe overcrowding, understaffing and problems with the mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems. [See: PLN, Sept. 2007, p.36; March 2005, p.22].
The case was finally terminated on May 12, 2015 after 11 years of litigation and court oversight, at an estimated cost to county taxpayers of more ...
U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank ruled in June 2015 that the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) was unconstitutional for indefinitely confining offenders who had completed their prison terms. In August 2016, a state Supreme Court panel ordered sex offender Eric Terhaar’s release after six years in the MSOP. Although a handful of sex offenders have been released from the program under strict supervision, the judicial panel ordered Terhaar’s release with no strings attached – a first in the program’s 20-year history.
Terhaar, 26, was committed to the MSOP based on sex acts he committed between the ages of 10 and 14. For advocates, his indefinite civil commitment reflected the larger problem of locking up too many people for too long. The Terhaar ruling is the second time in 2016 that a court panel has ordered the release of an MSOP resident despite expert testimony and the objection of state officials.
Minnesota Human Services Commissioner Emily Johnson Piper cleared the way for Terhaar’s release when she decided on September 7, 2016 to not appeal the judicial panel’s order. That decision was sharply criticized by state Representative Tara Mack, who said granting Terhaar’s freedom “potentially sets the other precedent, that ...
A great deal of ink is being spilled on the upcoming presidential election in November, but only a small amount of media coverage has been devoted to the candidates’ positions on criminal justice-related issues. Thus, in the interest of providing PLN readers with information they can use to make informed electoral choices, we are providing the following summary of the criminal justice platforms and backgrounds of the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, as well as those of the runners-up from the primary elections. While most people in prison cannot vote, some can – including prisoners in Maine and Vermont, plus pretrial detainees held in local jails who otherwise meet voting requirements.
The Presidential Nominees
Hillary Clinton, Democrat
None of the candidates is more glaringly associated with the promotion of mass incarceration than the former first lady, ex-Secretary of State and Democratic nominee, Hillary R. Clinton. In 1994 her husband signed into law the sweeping Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act – with strong endorsement and support from Hillary – which later earned Bill Clinton the title of “the incarceration president” by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI).
The 1994 crime bill included a number of provisions that expanded the nation’s ...
Life and life without parole sentencing, like mass incarceration itself, needs a reexamination.
by Kali Holloway, AlterNet
Almost 160,000 prisoners are currently serving life sentences in the United States; nearly 50,000 incarcerated people are serving terms of life without parole. While mass incarceration has become a frequent national talking point across the board, with even previous tough-on-crime hardliners acknowledging the devastating consequences of overincarceration, “lifers” are often left out of the conversation. This omission – as with so many issues of advocacy, justice and picking battles – is based on a certain perceived practicality. Within the context of the already hard-fought movement for prison reform, it’s easier to gain support for those whose sentences are not associated in the public mind with the most egregious crimes. The fear is that expanding the reform vision to include lifers – particularly those charged with violent crimes – may turn people off and potentially erode strides made in recent years.
Numbers, however, have inevitably begun to force that necessary discussion. In a country where the death penalty still exists though is (though not fast enough) falling out of favor, the false notion of life sentences as merciful alternatives – and a national ...
After decades of driving prison expansion by espousing tough-on-crime sentencing laws, advocating for policies to lock up criminals and throw away the key, and exploiting the public’s fear of crime, conservative lawmakers have finally discovered criminal justice reform. Like European explorers being met on the beach by throngs of Native Americans, they are now trying to claim ownership of their newfound “discovery” despite a long history of reform efforts by progressives, non-profit organizations and faith-based groups.
In 1992, then-U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich, a Republican from Georgia, told The New York Times that more prisons should be built so every violent criminal in America could be locked up for their entire sentence with no time off for good behavior. His 1994 “Contract with America” included the Taking Back Our Streets Act, which funded prison construction and rewarded states that reduced parole rates with additional funding. During the next 20 years the prison population in the U.S. more than doubled; the estimated $82.7 billion spent on incarceration in 2009 was an increase of 230% over 1990.
In a 2011 Washington Post op-ed, Gingrich reversed course. “There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population ...
In an ironic twist of fate, a former Chicago police detective accused of acts of brutality against suspects in police custody has been cited for using similar tactics at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. According to the London-based Guardian newspaper, former detective Richard Zuley stands accused by multiple victims of beatings and abuse in his Chicago police work as well as wrongful convictions – leading to comparisons with disgraced former Chicago police detective Jon Burge. [See: PLN, Oct. 2015, p.60; Oct. 2004, p.1].
In 1990, Lathierial Boyd, a young black Chicago businessman, was arrested by Zuley and accused of murder. After searching his upscale home, Zuley allegedly told Boyd “no nigger is supposed to live like this.” Boyd was wrongfully convicted of homicide in October 1990 despite having an alibi, and served 23 years in Illinois prisons before being exonerated and released. Zuley was accused of concealing exculpatory evidence in the case.
Other defendants in Chicago, mostly poor and black, told of being shackled to police station walls by Zuley until they gave confessions, whether they were guilty or not. One defendant, Anthony Garrett, said Zuley beat a confession out of him; others ...
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has vacated a district court’s denial of qualified immunity because an individualized inquiry into the defendants’ role during an illegal body cavity search was not conducted.
Felix Charles Booker was a passenger in a vehicle pulled over by Oak Ridge, Tennessee police officer Daniel R. Steakley on February 12, 2010. Steakley suspected that Booker was “attempting to conceal something” because of the way he was “moving around.” During a search of the vehicle, a small plastic bag containing something that looked like crushed marijuana was found on the floorboard where Booker was seated. He was arrested for marijuana possession and transported to jail.
Guard Jerry Shelton strip-searched Booker due to Steakley’s suspicion that he had hidden contraband on his body. Nothing was found.
A supervisor and prosecutor then directed Shelton to take Booker to a hospital for a body cavity search. No search warrant was sought or obtained.
At the hospital, Dr. Michael LaPaglia performed three rectal searches. The first digital search was unsuccessful because Booker contracted his rectal muscles so LaPaglia could not penetrate him. LaPaglia ordered a nurse to inject Booker with ten milligrams of Midazolam, a sedative and muscle relaxant ...
The federal Bureau of Prisons’ culture of retaliation against whistleblowers appears to be alive and well, at least in the case of Linda Thomas, a BOP employee who was punished for revealing the unearned compensation of her superior. When Thomas reported that malfeasance to the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General, she was assigned to work in a converted jail cell without a computer, desk or other equipment needed to do her job. Then the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) stepped in.
The OSC, an independent agency, conducted an investigation into the alleged retaliatory actions by federal prison officials and finally obtained relief for Thomas in early 2015.
A November 2010 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report had cited repeated cases where the Bureau of Prisons retaliated against its own employees who revealed misconduct within the agency. The BOP, secretive in its dealings not only with the public but also members of Congress, is notoriously publicity shy. Woe to any BOP employee who draws attention to wrongdoing, even if it involves misuse of authority or clearly illicit conduct.
U.S. Senator Charles “Chuck” Grassley lashed out at BOP Director Charles E. Samuels, Jr. in a sharply-worded letter ...
Last year the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s judgment denying a prisoner’s collateral appeal, because the judgment violated state law.
Following the direct appeal of a conviction and sentence to the Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court, Oregon prisoners may file a collateral appeal. Generally, claims raised in a post-conviction relief (PCR) action must be framed as ineffective assistance of trial or appellate counsel. See: Palmer v. State, 318 Ore. 352, 867 P.2d 1368 (Or. 1994). However, there are some narrow exceptions to that rule.
Oregon prisoner Patrick McKeachie filed a PCR action asserting four claims for relief. In his second claim, he alleged prosecutorial misconduct on the basis that prosecutors had withheld evidence from the defense. In his fourth claim, he alleged general due process violations in several different ways. The PCR court entered a judgment denying relief on all four claims raised in McKeachie’s petition.
The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, finding that the judgment was deficient with respect to McKeachie’s second and fourth claims.
A judgment granting or denying PCR “must clearly state the grounds on which the case was determined, and whether a state or federal question was presented ...
A study published in the September 2014 issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior found much higher rates of significant health and behavioral problems among children of incarcerated parents as opposed to children with similar demographic, socioeconomic and familial characteristics. The research, conducted by Prof. Kristin Turney at the University of California, Irvine, and presented at the 109th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, suggested that the incarceration of a parent may be more harmful to a child’s health than divorce or even a parent’s death.
The study used data from the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health, a population-based and representative sample of children from birth to age 17. Susan Brown, a professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University, said the report gave “compelling evidence as to [the effect of a] stressful life event. A lot of research has been done on parental incarceration and children’s health.” She added, “I think that it raises a number of important issues when we think about how children are faring and what the collateral consequences are of mass incarceration.”
Education Week reported that more than 2.7 million children in the U.S. have at least ...
The Habeas Citebook: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel (2nd Edition), by Brandon Sample and Alissa Hull (PLN Publishing, 2016). 275 pages, $49.95 (softcover)
Book review by Christopher Zoukis
The much-anticipated second edition of The Habeas Citebook: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel, by Brandon Sample and Alissa Hull, is the fifth book to be published by PLN Publishing. As is the case with the previous four titles, The Habeas Citebook is an excellent, professional and informative publication.
Former federal prisoner Brandon Sample, who attended law school after his release and recently passed the bar, and Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York staff attorney Alissa Hull, have put an enormous amount of research into the second edition of this must-have resource. Every new case relating to ineffective assistance of counsel claims published since the first version of The Habeas Citebook is included in this updated edition.
As with the first edition of this book, all case citations include a short statement of the court’s ruling. Anyone who has ever engaged in legal research will greatly appreciate these short statements; for those with limited research experience, these summaries prevent getting lost within lengthy judicial opinions. For the more advanced researcher, they provide a mechanism ...
On March 10, 2016, Andre Hatchett, 49, became the 19th person exonerated since Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson strengthened a conviction review unit when he took office in 2014.
Hatchett had been convicted of second degree murder for the 1991 death of Neda Mae Carter. His conviction was based on “a perfect storm of error – bad defense counsel, an unreliable witness, critical evidence that was never disclosed to the defense,” according to Seema Saifee, a staff attorney with the Innocence Project, which helped secure Hatchett’s release. “It’s frightening how easy it is to convict an innocent person in this country,” Saifee said. “And it’s overwhelmingly difficult to release an innocent person.”
When Neda Mae was killed, Hatchett, then 24, was on crutches from an injury he received as a bystander during a shooting.
According to Innocence Project attorneys, Hatchett had an I.Q. of 63 and had cooperated with the police and provided an alibi. He was arrested and convicted mainly on the testimony of an informant, Gerald “Jerry” Williams, who was facing a burglary charge and had initially identified another person as the killer – a fact that prosecutors failed to disclose to Hatchett’s attorneys ...
When the Consolidated Appropriations Act was enacted by Congress in 2005, the U.S. economy was growing, tax collections were rising and law enforcement’s gravy train of funding was gaining momentum. Although more recently the economy has finally started to recover from the Great Recession, prisoner populations have dropped and corrections expenditures have leveled off, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) continued to provide almost $180 million in funding to state law enforcement agencies in fiscal year 2016.
The program used to distribute the money is now called the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG), and according to the DOJ such grants can be used for law enforcement, prosecution and courts, prevention and education, corrections and community corrections, drug treatment, planning and evaluation, technology improvement, and crime victim and witness programs. See: 42 U.S.C. § 3751(a). However, many observers believe that JAG funds have primarily been used to purchase new buildings and equipment that taxpayers would otherwise not be interested in funding.
There is a complicated allocation formula used to determine each state’s share of the federal government’s largess, but unsurprisingly the largest sums went to the largest states – California ($18.2 million), Texas ...
Prisoner Transportation Services, also known as PTS of America, LLC, bills itself as the “largest prisoner extradition company and one of the largest national transporters of detainees” in the United States.
The firm, headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, was recently advised by the Surface Transportation Board (STB), a federal regulatory agency, that its application to merge with U.S. Corrections, one of its competitors, had been delayed after the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) filed a detailed comment objecting to the merger. HRDC is the parent organization of Prison Legal News.
PLN has been a longtime critic of the prisoner transportation industry, citing numerous accidents resulting in deaths and injuries of both prisoners and guards as well as escapes, sexual abuse and other problems. PLN has also noted abysmal conditions during prisoner transports. [See: PLN, Dec. 2015, p.60; Sept. 2006, p.1].
According to HRDC’s August 8, 2016 comment filed with the STB, “Prisoners have reported that transport drivers sometimes refuse to stop for restroom breaks, causing them to urinate or defecate in transport vehicles; fail to provide water or adequate food; fail to respond to medical emergencies; fail to provide sanitary pads or tampons to female prisoners who are ...
Coccidioidomycosis is the medical term for valley fever, an airborne fungal disease that led to more than 5,600 reported infections in Arizona in 2014; the disease is also prevalent in some areas of California. PLN has previously reported on valley fever cases among Hawaii prisoners housed at the privately-operated Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona. [See: PLN, Aug. 2016, p.56]. According to a recent investigation by Honolulu’s Civil Beat newspaper, numerous cases of the disease at Saguaro have gone unreported.
A provision of the Arizona Administrative Code requires correctional administrators to report to local health authorities “all cases or suspected cases” of communicable diseases. The Civil Beat’s review of Pinal County Public Health Services District records found that Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) had not reported a single case of valley fever at the Saguaro facility since 2007. However, conflicting records from the Hawaii Department of Public Safety indicate that at least four prisoners have been infected with the disease – one case each in 2014 and 2015, and two cases in 2016. The department hasn’t tracked older cases.
CCA denied that it had violated any reporting requirements. According to spokesman Jonathan Burns, the company “always strives to fulfill ...
Arizona: The U.S. Department of Justice declared April 24 to 30, 2016 to be the inaugural National Reentry Week in an effort to recognize the plight of the more than 600,000 prisoners who are released annually from federal and state prisons, plus 11.4 million others who cycle through local jails each year. In honor of the event, FCI-Safford held a reentry day on April 29, 2016, with a focus on exposing prisoners to ways they can succeed on the outside and avoid returning to prison. “It is the philosophy of the Bureau of Prisons that preparation for reentry begins on the first day of an inmate’s incarceration,” said FCI-Safford Warden Steve Lake. “Today’s event highlights our goal to prepare inmates to be successful when they reintegrate into society.”
Arizona: A pair of students-turned-filmmakers received accolades for their short documentary film “Rethinking Reform: Prisons in America,” which won the High School West Division of C-SPAN’s 2016 StudentCam competition. Senior Dani Zubia and tenth-grader Sofia Taglienti worked with the Metropolitan Arts Institute in Phoenix to produce the seven-minute video, which touches on private prisons as well as treatment and rehabilitation. “I loved being able to write ...