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Prisoner Education Guide

Prison Legal News: November, 2016

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Volume 27, Number 11

In this issue:

  1. When Prison is Not Enough: The Rise (and Perhaps the Fall) of the Supermax Prison (p 1)
  2. Local Jails Increasingly Refuse to Comply with ICE Detainers (p 8)
  3. From the Editor (p 10)
  4. Maryland DOC Suspends Volunteer, Drops Literature Program (p 11)
  5. Oregon “Incorrigible Masturbator’s” Life Sentence Unconstitutionally Disproportionate (p 12)
  6. Ohio Federal Court Dismisses Suit Against Doctor Over Prisoner’s Suicide (p 13)
  7. Wayward Prosecutors Go Unpunished as Prison Time for Victims Piles Up (p 14)
  8. Supervised Release Term Does Not Limit Prison Sentence Upon Violation (p 17)
  9. Class-action Certified in Challenge to Treatment of Mentally Ill Mississippi Prisoners (p 18)
  10. Oregon Prison Parenting Program Dramatically Reduces Recidivism (p 18)
  11. Pennsylvania Supreme Court Upholds Death Penalty Moratorium (p 20)
  12. Indiana Federal Court Certifies Habeas Corpus Class of Prisoners Disciplined for Refusing to Admit Guilt in Sex Offender Program (p 20)
  13. Alaska Prisons and Jails Filled with Mentally Ill Prisoners (p 22)
  14. Federal Judge Orders Texas Department of Criminal Justice to Provide Safe Water to Prisoners (p 22)
  15. ACLU Sues California as Incompetent Defendants Wait in Jail for Mental Health Treatment (p 24)
  16. Collecting Unpaid Booking Fees in Colorado may be Illegal, Experts Say (p 24)
  17. Hunger Strikes by Immigrant Detainees Expose Abuses by ICE, Private Detention Centers (p 26)
  18. Federal Court Upholds New York Prison System’s Denial of Motorized Wheelchairs; Second Circuit Reverses (p 28)
  19. Oregon Parole Board Incorrectly Prohibited Legal Assistant from Speaking at Parole Hearing (p 28)
  20. Tenth Circuit: No Summary Judgment on Official Capacity Claims (p 30)
  21. Allocation of Fault Required in Verdict Regarding Alaska Detainee’s Suicide; Case Settles for $900,000 (p 30)
  22. Federal Prisoner Tells President “No Thanks” to Offer of Clemency with RDAP Condition (p 32)
  23. Book Review: Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy (p 32)
  24. Southern Health Partners to Face Liability in Kentucky Pre-trial Detainee’s MRSA Death (p 34)
  25. Challenge to Ohio Private Prison Confinement Not Cognizable in Habeas Corpus (p 34)
  26. Arkansas Court of Appeals Upholds Civil Forfeiture Ruling (p 35)
  27. Fifth Circuit Holds Four Decades in Solitary Confinement Implicates Liberty Interest; Last Angola 3 Member Finally Released (p 36)
  28. The Rape Victims Silenced by Their Prison Cells (p 38)
  29. Settlement Comprehensively Overhauls Solitary Confinement in New York Prisons (p 40)
  30. Inquisitorial Telephonic Hearing to Screen Civil Rights Case Deemed Unlawful (p 40)
  31. Wisconsin: Prison Hunger Strike Reaches Crisis Point (p 41)
  32. Preliminary Injunction Granted in Class-action Suit Challenging Private Probation Services in Tennessee (p 42)
  33. Eleventh Circuit Reverses Finding that Seizure of Prisoner’s Legal Mail Stated Claim (p 42)
  34. Federal Judge Sanctions Idaho DOC for Misleading Special Master in Balla Case (p 44)
  35. Illinois Jail Detainee’s Inadequate Food and Contaminated Water Claims Survive Initial Dismissal (p 44)
  36. Arkansas Secretary of State Issues Faulty Felon Data, Thousands Purged from Electoral Rolls (p 45)
  37. Pennsylvania: Former Cop Indefinitely Jailed for Failure to Supply Passwords (p 46)
  38. Justice Policy Institute Report Challenges Reformers to Focus on Violent Crimes (p 46)
  39. Canadian Solitary Confinement Deaths Result in Rare Lawsuits, Eventual Reforms (p 48)
  40. CDCR Drug-sniffing Dog Trainer Resigns Over Switch to “Passive” Dogs (p 50)
  41. Colorado’s “Make My Day” Law No Longer Applies to Prisoners (p 50)
  42. Corrections Corporation of America, Rocked by Setbacks, Changes its Name (p 51)
  43. Nevada Attorney General Investigates Shooting of Two Handcuffed Prisoners (p 52)
  44. Company Offers Educational Tablets to Prisoners, with Mixed Results (p 52)
  45. Full Senate Report on CIA Torture Remains Classified, Largely Unread (p 54)
  46. United Kingdom: Prison Book Ban Overturned (p 57)
  47. Mold-infested Prisons Sicken Guards and Prisoners (p 58)
  48. Maryland Prisoner’s Death Occurs Under Unusual Circumstances (p 59)
  49. Former Pennsylvania Prison Doctor Sentenced for Fraud; Accomplices Convicted (p 60)
  50. Alabama Prisoner Exonerated after Serving 30 Years on Death Row (p 60)
  51. Rare Corporate Prosecution: West Virginia’s “King of Coal” Sentenced for Conspiracy in Mine Deaths (p 61)
  52. News in Brief (p 63)

When Prison is Not Enough: The Rise (and Perhaps the Fall) of the Supermax Prison

by Keramet Reiter

In 1986, the Security Management Unit opened in Florence, Arizona. It was a new kind of prison designed for long-term, total isolation, for prisoners whom prison officials said simply could not get by in the general prison population: gang members, the extremely violent, some death row prisoners. The 424 modular, poured concrete cells of the SMU had no windows, only fluorescent lights that remained on 24 hours a day, every day. A cement ledge for a bed and a steel toilet-sink combination passed as furniture. Prisoners were only allowed out of their cells for, at most, an hour or two a day in an exercise yard hardly bigger than their 8x10-foot cells, with time for a shower, if they were lucky. There was no place for any congregate activity. Officers in central control booths looked out over multiple pods of cells at once, and could open the mechanized cell doors, one at a time, with the press of a button. The facilities essentially eliminated the need for human contact. The architects, who had worked with prison officials to design this feat of modern technology, touted their streamlined, efficient innovation as: “the kind of facility that could almost ...

Local Jails Increasingly Refuse to Comply with ICE Detainers

Hundreds of municipalities across the country – including major cities such as Los Angeles and others with large populations of immigrants – are refusing to honor requests from federal officials to hold undocumented immigrants in jail for possible deportation after a judge ruled that doing so was unconstitutional. The policy ...

From the Editor

By now everyone should have received our special fundraiser issue, which includes our 2015 annual report. We don’t get many visitors to our office in Lake Worth, Florida, and when we do reactions tend to fall into two categories when people realize we have 15 full-time staff members dedicated to advocating for prisoners and their families. Either they thought we were much larger because we accomplish so much, or they thought we were much smaller because as long-term supporters they remember the good old days when I edited the magazine from prison and we had an all-volunteer staff. Our annual report provides a good overview of the depth and breadth of the work we do – from our litigation around the country, including the amicus briefs we file, to our advocacy with the Federal Communications Commission and other federal agencies, to our public speaking engagements to the many media interviews we do, and much more.

Every month it takes a team of people to ensure readers are sent, and can receive, their issues of PLN and book orders. Besides myself there is PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann; Susan Schwartzkopf, our advertising director and Chief Financial Officer; Judy Cohen, our office ...

Maryland DOC Suspends Volunteer, Drops Literature Program

Mikita Brottman led a reading and discussion group for nine Maryland prisoners serving life sentences at the Jessup Correctional Institution. A professor of literature at the Maryland Institute College of Art and a psychoanalyst, Brottman volunteered her time for two hours a week, a few weeks out of the year for four years. Prisoners in the group read classic works by George Orwell, Joseph Conrad, Edgar Allen Poe, Shakespeare and other well-known authors.

Recently, however, her volunteering privileges were suspended and the program was discontinued by prison officials.

HarperCollins published Brottman’s memoir about the program – entitled The Maximum Security Book Club – in June 2016. The Baltimore Sun published a profile on Brottman the following month. Three weeks later, on August 15, 2016, she received an email from an assistant warden at Jessup that informed her she had broken a rule and could not return to the prison.

Brottman tried to contact the assistant warden for an explanation but received no response, so she wrote to Shari Elliker, director of communications and volunteer and religious services for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Elliker responded by email, saying “facilities reserve the right to sign up or ...

Oregon “Incorrigible Masturbator’s” Life Sentence Unconstitutionally Disproportionate

The Oregon Court of Appeals held on June 17, 2015 that a true life sentence for “an incorrigible masturbator” was an unconstitutionally disproportionate punishment – a decision subsequently upheld by the state Supreme Court.

Under ORS 137.719(1), certain recidivist sex offenders may be sentenced to a presumptive life sentence without the possibility of parole when convicted of a third felony sex crime. Public indecency is a felony sex crime if the offender has a prior conviction for public indecency or another sexual offense.

In July 2006, Dennis James Davidson’s grandmother caught him masturbating while looking out the window at the neighboring home of a young woman, identified only as “A.” That same month, another neighbor observed Davidson, 39, masturbating on the porch of A’s residence. When Davidson saw the neighbor, he thrust his hips in her direction and yelled “You want some of this?”

After the police arrived Davidson denied the neighbor’s accusations, telling the officers that he knew A, had just been in her home where they had masturbated together, and the neighbor saw him zipping up his pants as he left after the encounter.

During a search of Davidson’s backpack, police found a bottle ...

Ohio Federal Court Dismisses Suit Against Doctor Over Prisoner’s Suicide

On September 4, 2015, an Ohio federal district court dismissed a lawsuit brought against a former prison doctor following the suicide of a prisoner under his care.

Ohio prisoner Gregory Stamper was in extreme pain due to damage to his nervous system. Dr. Myron Lyle Shank, the physician responsible for Stamper’s medical care, refused to prescribe pain medication. Stamper committed suicide on June 1, 2011 at the Allen Correctional Institution, and the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, a Cincinnati-based prisoners’ rights group, filed a lawsuit alleging the failure to treat his severe pain caused him to take his life.

Federal judge Edmund A. Sargus, Jr. ruled that Dr. Shank’s treatment of Stamper was not deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs because the doctor had determined the medication Stamper was using was ineffective and Stamper had misused the medication.

A review by prison officials conducted after Stamper’s suicide concluded that Dr. Shank had improperly canceled medication and treatment of patients without first examining them, and had failed to conduct proper follow-ups of the patients he did see.

A previous investigation by the Ohio State Medical Board resulted in a citation issued on January 12, 2011, which stated Shank had inappropriately ...

Wayward Prosecutors Go Unpunished as Prison Time for Victims Piles Up

by Brooke Williams & Shawn Musgrave

Massachusetts prosecutors have violated defendants’ rights to a fair trial regularly and without punishment, even as wrongfully convicted victims of tainted prosecutions have spent years in prison before being freed, decades of court rulings show.

The state’s Supreme Judicial Court and Appeals Court have reversed at least 120 criminal convictions since 1985 in part or entirely because of the prosecuting attorney’s misconduct described in the judges’ rationale for the overturned verdicts.

The New England Center for Investigative Reporting reviewed more than 1,000 rulings in which defendants alleged prosecutorial misconduct. In addition to the 120 reversals, judges criticized the prosecution’s behavior in another 250 cases, but found the lapses not serious enough to affect the jury’s decision, and upheld the convictions.

At least 11 convicted defendants in the reviewed cases were ultimately exonerated. Added together, their time served for crimes they didn’t commit totaled more than 100 years. Others were convicted again or pleaded guilty when facing retrial, sometimes to lesser charges with sentences reduced.

Some prosecutors failed to turn over important evidence to defense attorneys or didn’t disclose information bearing negatively on witness credibility, judges said. Others misrepresented evidence in their closing statements to ...

Supervised Release Term Does Not Limit Prison Sentence Upon Violation

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held “that upon revocation of supervised release a defendant may be sentenced to the felony class limits contained in [18 U.S.C.] § 3583(e)(3) without regard to imprisonment previously served for revocation of supervised release.”

After the third revocation of his federal supervised release, John Cunningham was sentenced to 24 months in prison. He was originally sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment with three years of supervised release for failure to register as a sex offender. He violated his release provisions and was sentenced to eight months in prison and 24 months’ supervised release. He violated again and received a 14-month prison sentence with 14 months of supervised release.

Upon the third violation, the court imposed the 24-month sentence with no supervised release. On appeal, Cunningham claimed that sentence was illegal because it exceeded the term of his supervised release. He argued the aggregate limitation contained in § 3583(h) constrained the sentence “authorized by statute” in § 3583(e)(3).

In other words, he asserted his prison sentence could not exceed the term of supervised release ordered by the district court. The Eleventh Circuit disagreed on de novo review.

The ...

Class-action Certified in Challenge to Treatment of Mentally Ill Mississippi Prisoners

In September 2015, a Mississippi federal district court certified as a class-action a lawsuit challenging the treatment and conditions afforded mentally ill prisoners at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility (EMCF). The court further held that the plaintiffs’ mental health experts could testify as to the methodologies used to formulate their opinions.

The seven claims raised in the civil rights action seek to “eliminate the substantial risks of serious harm” that result from alleged inadequate medical and mental health care, unsanitary environmental conditions, use of excessive force by EMCF staff and use of solitary confinement. [See: PLN, Jan. 2014, p.24]. The facility is operated by private prison firm Management & Training Corp.; it was previously operated by GEO Group before the company discontinued its contracts in Mississippi in 2012. [See: PLN, Nov. 2013, p.30].

The defendants moved under Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharms., 509 U.S. 579 (1993) to exclude the expert reports and testimony of the plaintiffs’ medical and mental health experts, Dr. Terry A. Kupers, Dr. Marc Stern, Dr. Bart Abplanalp and Nurse Practitioner Madeline LaMarre. Under Daubert, an expert’s opinion must be assessed to determine “whether the reasoning or methodology underlying the testimony is scientifically valid ...

Oregon Prison Parenting Program Dramatically Reduces Recidivism

Oregon prisoners who complete a parenting program are significantly less likely to engage in criminal behavior and substance abuse after release, a long-term study found.

More than half of America’s 2.3 million prisoners have children under the age of 18 according to a 2010 Pew study. In other words, one of every 28 children in the U.S. has an incarcerated parent. Around half of incarcerated parents were their child’s primary financial provider before being arrested. According to another study by the Brookings Institute, African American parents who did not graduate from high school are 50 percent more likely to spend time behind bars before their child’s fourteenth birthday.

“If we are going to improve the lives of children and keep them safe and healthy, if we are going to reduce poverty, stop crime, and make communities safer, we must find effective methods of intervening in and breaking the intergenerational cycle of criminal behavior,” said Colette S. Peters, Director of the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC). “To do that, we must look to the needs of the children of incarcerated parents.”

Teaching prisoners good parenting skills is an important step in breaking that cycle, according to Peters ...

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Upholds Death Penalty Moratorium

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in early 2015; predictably, the move was lauded by opponents of capital punishment and despised by those in favor of the death penalty. State prosecutors petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to overturn the moratorium but were unsuccessful.

Governor Wolf’s decision to implement the moratorium on February 13, 2015 involved the case of Terrance Williams, who was convicted of murder and robbery in 1984 and sentenced to death. Having exhausted his appeals and facing execution, Williams was granted a reprieve by Wolf, who extended the reprieve to all death row prisoners. [See: PLN, Feb. 2016, p.44].

Wolf took office in January 2015 after defeating Governor Tom Corbett, a former prosecutor who signed 48 death warrants during his four-year stint as governor. During the gubernatorial campaign, Wolf had declared his support for a moratorium on capital punishment. Pennsylvania has not executed a prisoner since 1999 and carried out only three executions since 1978. There were 175 prisoners on the state’s death row as of November 1, 2016.

In announcing the moratorium, Governor Wolf noted that around 150 people sentenced to death have been exonerated nationwide, including three from Pennsylvania. Philadelphia ...

Indiana Federal Court Certifies Habeas Corpus Class of Prisoners Disciplined for Refusing to Admit Guilt in Sex Offender Program

On September 30, 2015, a U.S. district court certified a class of Indiana state prisoners who refused to admit their guilt as part of the Indiana Sex Offender Monitoring and Management Treatment Program, and who were subjected to disciplinary sanctions as a result.

In 2006, the Indiana Department of Correction (DOC) made participation in the program mandatory for any prisoner with a prior sex offense conviction. Admitting guilt and providing a list of prior offenses, including unadjudicated crimes, is a required part of the program. The information is not private and may be shared with DOC personnel, parole and probation officials, child protective services, law enforcement, and sex offender, mental health and substance abuse treatment providers.

Donald Lacy, an Indiana prisoner, refused to admit his guilt. He was disciplined, lost around 2,460 days of good time and was demoted in time-earning class. He then filed a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his loss of good time and time-earning class as a result of disciplinary action for refusing to admit guilt violated his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which ...

Alaska Prisons and Jails Filled with Mentally Ill Prisoners

Correctional facilities in Alaska are confronted with a record number of prisoners with mental illnesses. In February 2016, KTUU reported that 65% of Alaskan prisoners suffered from some form of mental health problem while 80% had drug or alcohol addictions. The lack of resources to properly treat those prisoners has resulted in disastrous, even deadly consequences.

According to the Alaska Department of Corrections (ADOC), 42% of state prisoners have a diagnosable mental illness or cognitive disability. Of those, 20% are considered “severely and persistently” mentally ill.

Many prisoners with mental health problems are confined for crimes that were committed due to their mental illness. In June 2016, Alaska Dispatch News reported ongoing discriminatory treatment in the parole process for prisoners with mental health issues, including violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act. Treatment for mental illness is not easily obtainable, and prisons and jails have become de facto mental health facilities. In fact, there are three times as many beds in Alaska’s jails as there are at the state’s psychiatric hospital, which focuses mainly on people having mental health emergencies.

The 50 beds available at the Alaska Psychiatric Institution (API) are designed for short-term placement. “Alaska’s history ...

Federal Judge Orders Texas Department of Criminal Justice to Provide Safe Water to Prisoners

On June 21, 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Keith Ellison ordered the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) to provide prisoners at the Wallace Pack Unit in Navasota with drinking water free of unsafe levels of arsenic. Prisoners at the facility had filed suit in 2014, seeking relief not only from the contaminated water but also the extreme heat levels that often reach 100 degrees.

Judge Ellison issued a preliminary injunction to prevent further constitutional deprivations at Wallace Pack. “It is undisputed that, since 2006, the drinking water at the Wallace Pack Unit has contained between two and four-and-a-half times the amount of arsenic permitted by the EPA ... the prisoners ... are forced both to endure extremely high temperatures and to drink water with impermissibly high levels of arsenic,” he wrote.

Safe environmental conditions for prisoners, including safe drinking water, have been a priority for the Human Rights Defense Center through its Prison Ecology Project, and Prison Legal News has previously reported on arsenic-tainted water at Wallace Pack. [See: PLN, Sept. 2015, p.12].

According to PLN contributing writer Christopher Zoukis, “One of the attorneys for the inmates said that the [Texas] prison system has unacceptably known about the ...

ACLU Sues California as Incompetent Defendants Wait in Jail for Mental Health Treatment

The ACLU filed a lawsuit last year on behalf of defendants declared incompetent to stand trial who languish in county jails across California while they await transfers to state mental health facilities.

When the suit was filed jointly by ACLU chapters in both northern and southern California in July 2015 ...

Collecting Unpaid Booking Fees in Colorado may be Illegal, Experts Say

According to legal experts, unpaid jail booking fees that sheriff’s departments across Colorado have collected for years may violate state law if the fees are being taken from people who are repeatedly arrested, such as the mentally ill and the homeless. But that hasn’t stopped at least six counties from continuing the practice.

In 2004, Colorado lawmakers authorized sheriff’s departments statewide to collect up to $30 from everyone booked into a county jail, which opponents called a tax on the poor. See C.R.S. § 30-1-104(n). For those who can’t afford to pay when they’re arrested, the jail runs an ongoing tab, leaving some people owing hundreds of dollars that can be seized if they are repeatedly re-arrested and booked into jail again.

The Denver Post reported in July 2005 that jail booking fees would be “collected from those who can and should pay,” according to George Epp, executive director of the Colorado Sheriffs Association. “The money is going to come from the drunk drivers and wife beaters and the simple assaults and shoplifters, and those people that have money when they’re booked,” he said. Within the first month of charging the fee, Denver County collected ...

Hunger Strikes by Immigrant Detainees Expose Abuses by ICE, Private Detention Centers

A series of hunger strikes over the past two years by detainees at federal immigration detention facilities from Washington state to Pennsylvania have called for an end to the incarceration and deportation of undocumented immigrants, and exposed abuses and deficiencies in privately-operated, for-profit detention centers.

“The fortifications, the walls that attempted to contain our participation have cracked and with ever growing unity we will finish knocking them down,” said a group of detainees at the GEO Group-run Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington, in a written statement announcing the end of a 56-day protest in May 2014.

The hunger strikes, which at one time included around 1,200 immigrant detainees nationwide, began on March 7, 2014, two weeks after protesters outside NWDC blocked deportation buses and vans from entering or exiting the facility. Ten days later, after hearing that prisoners at NWDC were refusing to eat or perform work, detainees at the Joe Corley Detention Center (JCDC) in Conroe, Texas – also run by the GEO Group – joined the hunger strike.

Former detainees reportedly rallied outside the facilities to demonstrate their support of the hunger strikers, according to CBS. “A hunger strike is the only tool they ...

Federal Court Upholds New York Prison System’s Denial of Motorized Wheelchairs; Second Circuit Reverses

In a September 30, 2015 order, a fed­eral district court held that the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) could deny prisoners the use of wheelchairs with electric motors because the Department’s use of prisoners assigned to push unmotorized wheelchairs, known as “mobility aides,” was a reasonable accommodation. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and vacated the order.

New York prisoner Nathaniel Wright, 53, suffered deformed legs due to cerebral palsy when he was a child. The deformation and scoliosis limit his ability to walk, even using a cane, and cause him a great deal of pain when he propels himself with an unmotorized wheelchair. Wright used an electric wheelchair before his arrest, at the county jail and at the DOCCS reception facility. However, once he arrived at his assigned prison his electric wheelchair was confiscated; he was issued an unmotorized wheelchair and told he could use mobility aides to get to the toilet, meals, programming and medical appointments. Wright filed suit in federal court alleging that the blanket denial of motorized wheelchairs by DOCCS violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act (RA).

With the assistance of attorneys Samuel C. Young and ...

Oregon Parole Board Incorrectly Prohibited Legal Assistant from Speaking at Parole Hearing

Last year, the Oregon Court of Appeals held that a prisoner was improperly compelled to choose between having his mother or a legal assistant speak on his behalf at a parole hearing.

Oregon state prisoner Richard Hartwell is serving a life sentence for a 1985 murder. During an August 4, 2010 exit interview hearing before the Oregon Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision (Board), Hartwell was accompanied by inmate legal assistant (ILA) David Atkinson. His mother also attended telephonically.

During the hearing, the Board Chair forced Hartwell, who had mental health problems, to choose whether Atkinson or his mother would speak on his behalf. Hartwell told the Board his mother wanted to speak but he needed Atkinson to speak as well.

“Well, sir, he cannot speak on your behalf,” said the Chair. “By Board rule, only one person can speak on your behalf as your supporter.” Hartwell ultimately elected to have his mother speak.

Throughout the hearing, Board members attempted to discuss various issues with Hartwell, but many of his “statements were non-responsive, incoherent, and highly tangential, although it is clear that the board as well as [the ILA] tried to redirect him at various points.”

Hartwell’s ...

Tenth Circuit: No Summary Judgment on Official Capacity Claims

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s denial of summary judgment on individual capacity claims against an Oklahoma sheriff related to a prisoner’s suicide. The appellate court held it lacked jurisdiction to consider official capacity claims.

On July 27, 2009, Charles Jernegan was incarcerated on an outstanding warrant at the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He reported that he felt paranoid, nervous or depressed, and was hearing voices. He also said he was taking medication for mental health problems. Someone wrote “Diag. Paranoid-Schizo” on his intake booking form, and based on his comments the form directed further assessment. Yet Jernegan was not referred to the jail’s mental health team for follow-up care; rather, Nurse Faye Taylor recommended that he be placed in general population.

On July 28, 2009, Jernegan filed a medical request through the jail’s computer “kiosk” communications system, asking to speak with someone about problems he was having.

His medical record contained an entry dated July 30, 2009 at 8:00 a.m., claiming that healthcare employee Sara Sampson “attempted to see” him in response to his kiosk request, but couldn’t because he’d been moved. At 9:25 a.m., nurses ...

Allocation of Fault Required in Verdict Regarding Alaska Detainee’s Suicide; Case Settles for $900,000

In September 2015, the Alaska Supreme Court vacated a $1,078,233 judgment in a lawsuit alleging the City of Hooper Bay was liable in the suicide of a 21-year-old detainee in a police holding cell. The reversal was based on an improper jury instruction regarding allocation of fault.

Louis ...

Federal Prisoner Tells President “No Thanks” to Offer of Clemency with RDAP Condition

Federal prisoner Arnold Ray Jones was one of almost 30,000 applicants seeking executive clemency from President Obama, including those who took part in Clemency Project 2014, which was launched to provide much-needed relief to drug offenders serving long mandatory minimum sentences. [See: PLN, Sept. 2016, p.22; May 2016, p.46]. As of late October, 873 federal prisoners had been granted commutations, and Jones was pleased to be one of the select few until he heard about the condition imposed on his early release: participation in a residential drug treatment program.

“No thanks,” was his response.

Jones did the math and weighed his options. Convicted of a drug trafficking offense in 2002, he was scheduled to get out in April 2019 – only eight months longer than if he accepted the presidential commutation. To obtain the eight-month sentence reduction, he would have to participate in an intensive Residential Drug and Alcohol Program, or “RDAP.”

Although the idea of substance abuse treatment seems beneficial in the abstract, a prisoner such as Jones, who has been in the federal prison system for many years, knows that the institutional reality is much different. Prisoners who have gone through RDAP report ...

Book Review: Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy

Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy, by Dr. Heather Ann Thompson
(Pantheon Books, 2016). 752 pages, $24.00 (hardcover)

Book review by Alan Mills

Anyone who wants to understand mass incarceration needs to understand Attica. And anyone who wants to understand Attica must read Heather Thompson’s new book, Blood in the Water. It is a riveting tale but a difficult one to read. Several reviewers have noted that they had to stop reading at several points, to breathe and to wipe tears from their eyes. I join that group. But as difficult as it is, this is a story that must be told.

On September 9, 1971, almost 1,300 prisoners took over a yard at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York. As prisoners returned from breakfast, they broke down the gate and took over the yard and a wing of the prison. They seized several employees as hostages.

The prisoners quickly became organized, created a security committee and elected spokespeople. They negotiated for the release of hostages in need of immediate medical care.

Over the next four days, the prisoners engaged in negotiations with the administration. The state eventually agreed that ...

Southern Health Partners to Face Liability in Kentucky Pre-trial Detainee’s MRSA Death

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a grant of summary judgment to Southern Health Partners, Inc. (SHP) in a civil rights action alleging the company failed to train and supervise its nurses at Kentucky’s Hopkins County Detention Center (HCDC), which violated a deceased prisoner’s constitutional right to adequate medical care.

The lawsuit involved the death of Tyler Butler, 25, just three days after he was booked into HCDC on April 8, 2010 pursuant to a court order. A deputy did not want to admit him due to his sickly appearance and reported MRSA infection. SHP nurse Candace Moss, who was scheduled to change shifts in 30 minutes, was asked to make a decision on booking Butler.

Moss was shown various infections on Butler’s body, legs and groin areas. She instructed deputies to admit him, and had him placed on 72-hour detoxification for drug use and medical watch for the staph infection. Other than having his blood pressure checked three times and receiving five pills unrelated to his MRSA infection, Butler received no medical care before he was found unresponsive in his cell on April 11, 2010. An autopsy concluded his death was caused by sudden cardiac arrhythmia due to ...

Challenge to Ohio Private Prison Confinement Not Cognizable in Habeas Corpus

The Ohio Court of Appeals has affirmed the dismissal of a prisoner’s habeas corpus petition seeking immediate release from a private prison.

Ohio state prisoner Maurice Freeman was confined at the Lake Erie Correctional Institution, a private prison owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America. [See: PLN, Nov. 2014, p.44].

Freeman filed a habeas corpus petition in state court, alleging that his confinement at Lake Erie was illegal because he was being held by a private company rather than the State of Ohio. He argued that he was expressly ordered to serve a prison term at a state institution, and therefore sought immediate release from the CCA-run Lake Erie facility.

The trial court dismissed Freeman’s habeas petition, finding that he failed to allege sufficient facts to support a claim that he was entitled to immediate release.

The Ohio Court of Appeals affirmed. “As a general proposition, a writ of habeas corpus can be issued only when the petitioner has demonstrated that he is entitled to be released immediately,” the Court observed. “Unless a prisoner can prove that he has completed his maximum sentence, his entitlement to immediate release can only be established by showing that the sentencing ...

Arkansas Court of Appeals Upholds Civil Forfeiture Ruling

On May 4, 2016, the Arkansas Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s order for the civil forfeiture of nearly $20,000 seized from Guillermo Espinoza during a July 2013 traffic stop. Espinoza was never charged with a crime and prosecutors eventually filed a motion to dismiss the case. In an unusual decision, the trial court rejected that motion.

Following a September 2014 hearing, the court ordered Espinoza to forfeit his cash. A month later he filed a motion for reconsideration. In a one-sentence order, Circuit Judge Chris Williams held the motion was “without merit.” Espinoza appealed.

The Court of Appeals decided against Espinoza based on a technicality. His appeal was filed under criminal procedure rules, but the appellate court held the case must follow the state’s rules for civil procedure. His appeal was therefore deemed “untimely.”

Appellate Judge Waymond Brown wrote in a concurring opinion, “Although I agree that our court is procedurally barred from hearing this appeal, I cannot see why the trial judge would decide to follow through with the forfeiture of Mr. Espinoza’s $19,894, when the charging agency moved to dismiss without prejudice believing it lacked the evidence to confiscate the money.” ...

Fifth Circuit Holds Four Decades in Solitary Confinement Implicates Liberty Interest; Last Angola 3 Member Finally Released

On December 17, 2014, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that holding a prisoner in solitary confinement for almost 40 years implicated a liberty interest, and that prison officials could be liable for failing to provide adequate due process.

Louisiana state prisoner Albert Woodfox was convicted of killing prison guard Brent Miller at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in 1972. As soon as he became a suspect in the murder, he was placed in a form of solitary confinement known as extended lockdown or closed-cell restriction (CCR). Prisoners in CCR remain alone in their 6 x 9’ cells 23 hours a day. “During the other hour, a prisoner may shower and walk along the tier in which his cell is located. Three times a week, the prisoner may use this hour to exercise alone in a fenced yard, if the weather permits.”

Compared to prisoners in general population, CCR prisoners also face restrictions on their personal property, reading materials, ability to attend religious services, and access to legal resources, educational opportunities, job assignments and visitation.

Woodfox remained in CCR almost the entire time he was at Angola until his transfer to the David Wade Correctional Facility in ...

The Rape Victims Silenced by Their Prison Cells

A prison chaplain who admitted to sexually assaulting three prisoners may spend less than a year behind bars. Why don’t we seem to care?

by Melissa Jeltsen, Huffington Post

When Leticia Villarreal, 42, began her prison sentence at McPherson Unit, a women’s facility in Arkansas, she throbbed with anger and pain. She was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. She didn’t speak English. No one visited, no one called. She deeply missed her children. She was, for the first time in her life, utterly alone.

And then, she found God.

Kenneth Dewitt, a charismatic prison chaplain, welcomed her into the Principles and Applications for Life, or PAL, program – a religious initiative for prisoners that’s based on the teachings of disgraced evangelical fundamentalist Bill Gothard.

Women in the PAL program lived in a separate barracks and dedicated much of their days to study and prayer. It was quieter and cleaner than living with the general population, Villarreal said, an overall improvement in quality of life. And it was rumored among prisoners that participating in the program looked good on a record, especially if parole was possible.

According to conversations with former PAL participants, Dewitt would give daily lectures on topics such as personal responsibility ...

Settlement Comprehensively Overhauls Solitary Confinement in New York Prisons

On December 16, 2015, the State of New York and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) announced a final settlement agreement that will change many aspects of the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision’s use of solitary confinement, commonly known as “the box.” Important changes include abolishing the use of food loaf as punishment, capping most terms in solitary confinement and eliminating solitary as punishment for minor disciplinary offenses. An initial settlement in the case had been announced in February 2014. [See: PLN, Dec. 2014, p.42].

“New York State has recognized that solitary confinement is not only inhumane but detrimental to public safety and has committed to changing the culture of solitary within state prisons,” said NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman. “No prison system of this size has ever taken on such sweeping and comprehensive reforms to solitary confinement at one time. Today marks the end of an era where incarcerated New Yorkers are simply thrown into the box to be forgotten under torturous conditions as a punishment of first resort, and we hope this historic agreement will provide a framework for ending the abuse of solitary confinement in New York State.”

The ...

Inquisitorial Telephonic Hearing to Screen Civil Rights Case Deemed Unlawful

In reversing an Illinois federal district court’s dismissal of a civilly committed sex offender’s civil rights action, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals did not mince words when condemning the lower court’s use of a merit review proceeding as an inquisitorial hearing.

Willie Henderson is confined in the Rushville Treatment and Detention Facility pursuant to Illinois’ Sexually Violent Persons Commitment Act. He worked in the facility’s dietary services department. Henderson alleged in a civil rights complaint that he was fired from that position in retaliation for the “many lawsuits” he had filed against facility staff. He claimed he lost his job due to trumped up disciplinary charges.

The Seventh Circuit noted the complaint was “bare bones.” In screening the suit under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the district court had telephonically interviewed Henderson. Its dismissal order was captioned “MERIT REVIEW AND CASE MANAGEMENT ORDER,” and found that Henderson failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The court allowed him to amend but dismissed his amended complaint on the same basis.

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit held on October 5, 2015 that the district court’s use of the in camera inquisitorial proceeding ...

Wisconsin: Prison Hunger Strike Reaches Crisis Point

According to an August 22, 2016 report from Workers World, an ongoing hunger strike at the Waupun Correctional Institution in Wisconsin has reached a crisis point. A group of at least eight prisoners at Waupun and the Columbia Correctional Institution began refusing food in June as part of a movement called “Dying to Live.” The prisoners began the action to protest the use of long-term solitary confinement and to call for improvement in the care of mentally ill prisoners. On June 17, 2016, the Wisconsin DOC began force-feeding the hunger strikers; however, guards stopped giving regular hydration and nutrition in August and began a sadistic pattern of tube-feeding the strikers once every 72 hours.

Workers World stated a letter from Waupun prisoner LaRon McKinley detailed the DOC’s efforts to break the will of the protesters by tube-feeding them sporadically, increasing the pain, harm and danger to the men and putting them at risk of “refeeding syndrome,” which can cause fatal heart or respiratory failure. McKinley’s letter claimed that he and fellow hunger striker Cesar DeLeon had refused to drink the lead-contaminated water provided by the facility and were denied bottled water or Gatorade-type drinks.

Dodge County Circuit Court ...

Preliminary Injunction Granted in Class-action Suit Challenging Private Probation Services in Tennessee

Another victory in the fight against debtors’ prisons was achieved with the grant of an injunction by a Tennessee federal district court. The preliminary injunction, issued in a class-action lawsuit in December 2015, prohibits a private probation company from jailing probationers because they are unable to pay fees related to their supervision.

The suit “addresses one aspect of the growing privatization of the criminal justice system,” the court wrote. Rutherford County contracted with Pathways Community Corrections, previously known as Providence Community Corrections (PCC), which operates in 45 states, to provide misdemeanor probation services.

The payment of “all required supervision fees, court fines, and court costs” is a rule of probation, and a probationer who is unable to make payments is technically in violation of his or her supervision conditions. Other conditions, such as community service work, drug tests and various offense-related classes, may also be required and incur fees.

PCC charged probationers $45 a month for simply being on probation plus $20 for each drug test, which could be administered at a PCC employee’s whim. It also charged set-up fees, community service fees and even a “picture fee.” Those required to participate in trash removal as community service ...

Eleventh Circuit Reverses Finding that Seizure of Prisoner’s Legal Mail Stated Claim

A Georgia federal district court, in denying a motion to dismiss, found an attorney has a Fourth Amendment right to “privacy and possessory interest in letters mailed to him, and that the government may not take and read letters that have been mailed.” However, the Eleventh Circuit reversed on appeal, finding that the letters had not actually been “mailed” and thus no Fourth Amendment violation occurred.

Attorney Mario Williams sued several prison officials related to guard Andrew Russo’s actions between August 8 and 11, 2012 at the Special Management Unit at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison. Russo allegedly entered the cell of prisoner Miguel Jackson and “opened, read and took letters” that Jackson had “clearly marked ‘legal mail’ and ‘attorney/client privileged’ on the outside of the envelopes.”

The letters, addressed to Williams, were confiscated and not returned. He sought an arrest warrant for Russo, but the Butts County Superior Court refused to issue one after a probable cause hearing held on August 17, 2012. Williams subsequently filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against Russo and Warden Carl Humphrey, Deputy Warden June Bishop and Unit Manager James McMillan for allegedly ordering Russo “to open ...

Federal Judge Sanctions Idaho DOC for Misleading Special Master in Balla Case

On August 11, 2015, an Idaho federal court ordered sanctions against the State of Idaho and its prison system in a blistering ruling that found prison officials had intentionally misled a court-appointed special master regarding the quality of mental health services provided to prisoners. The sanctions were entered in a 35-year-old class-action suit over unconstitutional conditions in the Idaho Department of Corrections (IDOC) known as the Balla litigation, which PLN has reported on previously.

U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter said “attempts to mislead the Court strike at the heart of the judicial process and cannot be ignored even if the parties have made progress since [the initiation of the lawsuit]. Thus, the Court finds it appropriate to issue sanctions.” The ruling noted that Idaho State Correctional Institution (ISCI) officials had a “pattern of allowing employees to manipulate inmate medical files before, during and after the special master’s visit for inappropriate purposes,” and that practice clearly “crosse[d] the line.”

Previously, the special master appointed by the court, Dr. Marc Stern, had issued a report on February 2, 2012 that found much of the medical care provided at ISCI was unconstitutional. Specifically, he wrote there ...

Illinois Jail Detainee’s Inadequate Food and Contaminated Water Claims Survive Initial Dismissal

On September 25, 2015, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of a civil rights action brought by a pre-trial detainee at Illinois’ Cook County Jail that alleged inadequate food and contaminated water. However, the Court affirmed the dismissal of claims challenging inhumane working and living conditions and insufficient wages.

Pre-trial detainee Donald A. Smith sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the district court dismissed his complaint. The Seventh Circuit held that Smith’s conditions of confinement claims brought under the Fourteenth Amendment – as appropriate for pre-trial detainees – were properly analyzed under Eighth Amendment standards. The appellate court held there is no “gray area,” as Smith had contended, between the two Amendments.

Smith raised five conditions of confinement claims: 1) inadequate food, 2) the presence of rodents and insects, 3) no mirrors, 4) lack of outdoor recreation and 5) contaminated water. With respect to the first claim, Smith alleged that his “[f]ood is well below nutritional value.” The appellate court held those “six words make all the difference under our precedent.” Since the Constitution requires that prisoners receive a “nutritionally sufficient diet,” the first claim should not have ...

Arkansas Secretary of State Issues Faulty Felon Data, Thousands Purged from Electoral Rolls

It will be up to county clerks in Arkansas to fix a grand-scale mistake by Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office, and the ability of thousands of people to vote in November’s general election is in limbo as a result.

In a July 6, 2016 letter sent to county clerks throughout the state, Martin’s office said it had issued flawed data the previous month that flagged thousands of state residents with no felony convictions as being ineligible to vote, as well as a large number of ex-felons who had previously had their voting rights restored.

According to the Arkansas Times, the Secretary of State’s office “seemingly washed its hands of the error” after sending the letter. Martin denied any constitutional responsibility to correct the mistake or offer guidance to the county clerks. According to spokesperson Chris Powell, “We house the data, but [clerks] are the official voting registrars of their county. We do not add or remove anyone. I can’t speak for what any individual counties were doing.”

Many of the county clerks contacted by the Times said they simply canceled the registrations of all the flagged voters, then notified them they could no longer vote; others have reinstated ...

Pennsylvania: Former Cop Indefinitely Jailed for Failure to Supply Passwords

In March 2015, former Philadelphia police sergeant Francis Rawls, 37, was identified as a suspect in a child porno­graphy ring. As part of the investigation, Delaware County authorities confiscated several electronic devices from Rawls’ home and requested that he provide the passwords to decrypt the computers, tablets, iPhone and external hard drives. Rawls did not cooperate, saying he “couldn’t remember” the passwords. A court order was obtained requiring Rawls to divulge the encryption keys. He again did not comply. In September 2015, a judge found that Rawls’ explanation of forgetfulness was implausible; he was held in contempt and jailed indefinitely even though he had not been charged with a crime.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals heard testimony in the case on September 7, 2016. Defense attorney Keith M. Donoghue argued that decryption of the computers and other devices would violate Rawls’ rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Judish countered that authorities could demand the production of a key to a safe if they knew its contents; he compared Rawls’ passwords to a safe key. Neither lawyer addressed the possibility that, just like many other computer users, Rawls had ...

Justice Policy Institute Report Challenges Reformers to Focus on Violent Crimes

There is bipartisan consensus on both the state and federal levels that the number of incarcerated non-violent offenders should be reduced, and that process has slowly begun to build momentum. As the U.S. prison population has declined slightly over the past few years, prisoners’ rights advocates have argued that for the number of prisoners to drop dramatically, the criminal justice system will have to take steps to address offenders convicted of violent crimes.

President Obama, who has drawn attention to high levels of incarceration by visiting a federal prison in July 2015 and commuting the sentences of hundreds of mostly non-violent offenders, has also suggested expanding the focus of reform efforts beyond non-violent crimes, asking, “Can we, in fact, significantly reduce the prison population if we’re only focusing on non-violent offenses where part of the reason that in some countries – in Europe, for example – they have a lower incarceration rate because they also don’t sentence violent offenders for such long periods of time?”

U.S. Senator Cory Booker has gone even further, saying “I just want to ... give you a foreshadow of the future of what we must do as a society. We have labeled so ...

Canadian Solitary Confinement Deaths Result in Rare Lawsuits, Eventual Reforms

Deaths in Canadian federal prisons associated with the prolonged placement of prisoners in solitary confinement, as well as challenges to the use of segregation in provincial jails, have resulted in some limited reforms.

Ashley Smith was sentenced to Canada’s youth justice system when she was 12 years old; she was transferred to the adult federal prison system when she turned 18 in 2006. Smith was held in solitary confinement during her first 11.5 months in the adult system before killing herself, at the age of 19, at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ontario in October 2007. She had a history of mental health problems.

In August 2010, prisoner Eddie Snowshoe, 24, ended 162 days in segregation by hanging himself at the Edmonton Institution in Alberta. An inquiry into his death found that guards were unaware he had already served over 130 days at the Stony Mountain Institution near Winnipeg, Manitoba before being transferred to Edmonton, or that he had previously attempted suicide three times.

“It is urgent that we ensure that practices conform to [the Canadian] Charter of Rights protections before any more of our vulnerable prisoners, like Ashley Smith and Eddie Snowshoe, die alone in ...

CDCR Drug-sniffing Dog Trainer Resigns Over Switch to “Passive” Dogs

After resigning from his position, an expert dog trainer and veteran of California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) for more than 25 years has criticized a new program to reduce prison drug smuggling.

Wayne Conrad, 61, who quit in September 2014 after he was purportedly threatened by an associate warden, said CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard’s statewide plan to use more docile breeds of dogs to sniff out drugs and cell phones is both a waste of money and uses “antiquated” methods that would not withstand legal scrutiny.

In 2009, CDCR officials asked Conrad to come out of retirement and return to the department to organize their efforts to reduce drug and cell phone smuggling in state prisons. Conrad proceeded to assemble a team of handlers and trainers paired with 32 dogs across the state.

“And the beauty is that it was done with no funding,” he said. “All the dogs we received, they were either Belgian Malinois, German shepherds or Dutch shepherds. They were all donated or found in rescues. These dogs didn’t cost the department anything.”

Conrad bragged that one of his adopted dogs, a German shepherd named Drako, sniffed out 1,000 cell phones hidden ...

Colorado’s “Make My Day” Law No Longer Applies to Prisoners

by David Reutter

On the heels of the dismissal of murder charges against two Sterling Correctional Facility (SCF) prisoners under the state’s “Make My Day” law, lawmakers quickly rolled back the self-protection statute’s applicability to prisoners.

Prosecutors charged SCF prisoners Antero Alainz and Aaron Bernal with second-degree murder in the 2011 death of prisoner Cleveland Flood, who was classified as a habitual offender and serving a 48-year sentence on a burglary charge.

In December 2014, a Colorado judge dismissed murder charges against Alainz, and Bernal was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing in the killing of Flood in July 2015. The courts cited the state’s “Make My Day” law in both cases. [See: PLN, June 2016, p.63; Dec. 2015, p.63].

According to Alainz, Flood entered the cell he shared with Bernal uninvited while armed with a shank, and Alainz claimed that he and Bernal had acted in self-defense. An autopsy found Flood had 90 stab wounds all over his body.

Under Colorado’s “Make My Day” law, enacted in 1985, any “occupant of a dwelling” may use “any degree of physical force” against a person who breaks into the dwelling and poses a threat, no matter how slight, to the ...

Corrections Corporation of America, Rocked by Setbacks, Changes its Name

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest for-profit prison firm in the United States, and the subject of a recent scathing Mother Jones undercover investigative report that detailed numerous deficiencies at a Louisiana prison operated by the company, effectively found itself “pink-slipped” by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ announced in August 2016 that it plans to eliminate its use of privately-operated facilities to house federal prisoners, which sparked a sharp decline in CCA’s stock price. [See: PLN, Sept. 2016, p.28; Aug. 2016, p.54].

That was a serious setback for a company that has bragged about its profitability for decades and touted its ability to “save money” by operating detention facilities for less than what the government spends. Following the DOJ’s decision to phase out private prisons, the resulting 40% drop in CCA’s market value put it into full survival mode.

One of CCA’s first remedial moves, announced on October 29, 2016, was to change its name to “CoreCivic.” However, no matter what it’s called, the company’s business model remains the same – to make money by not spending enough to provide safe, secure facilities and adequate medical care for prisoners.

Marketers call this ...

Nevada Attorney General Investigates Shooting of Two Handcuffed Prisoners

Two handcuffed Nevada state prisoners held in administrative segregation at the high-security High Desert State Prison were shot by guards on November 12, 2014 after they began fighting, allegedly after those same guards deliberately encouraged them to fight. The shooting resulted in the resignation of the guards involved as well as a wrongful death lawsuit and criminal charges against a trainee guard.

Carlos Manuel Perez, Jr., 28, was killed after being shot with a shotgun in the head and chest, while the other prisoner, Andrew Jay Arevalo, then 25, was hospitalized with facial wounds. [See: PLN, Nov. 2015, p.63].

Allegedly, two Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) guards, Jeff Castro and Isaiah Smith, and an NDOC trainee, Raynaldo-John Ramos, deliberately caused a conflict between the two prisoners, culminating in Ramos opening fire with a shotgun.

Immediately following the killing, Arevalo was administratively charged by prison officials with Perez’s murder. That charge, later overturned, is believed by the families of both men to be a clear indication of an attempted cover-up.

Ramos was dismissed by the NDOC in the spring of 2015. Castro and Smith tendered their resignations in May of that year; following an administrative review, both were accused of ...

Company Offers Educational Tablets to Prisoners, with Mixed Results

A new educational product offered by a private company is being provided to prisoners in an increasing number of the nation’s jails – computer tablets supplied by Chicago-based Edovo (a name derived from “Education Over Obstacles”).

Edovo tablets include interactive educational and therapeutic programming, from GED preparation and math courses to cognitive behavioral programs and faith-based studies. For time spent on such programs, prisoners are rewarded with sanitized entertainment at about a one-to-one ratio; i.e., for each hour spent on education, an hour of entertainment is awarded.

Over the past several years Edovo tablets have been adopted in jails in Alabama, California and Pennsylvania, as well as facilities operated by the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice. In those jurisdictions, the tablets are made available to prisoners at a cost of about $2 per day – the tablets are typically purchased using funds from inmate welfare accounts, and provided to prisoners at no cost. Of course, the money in inmate welfare accounts usually comes from prisoners and their families through commissary purchases, visitation vending machine revenue and phone commission kickbacks.

Edovo CEO Brian Hill said he launched the tablet program through his desire to merge a profitable product with publicly-beneficial ...

Full Senate Report on CIA Torture Remains Classified, Largely Unread

“I want to be absolutely clear with our people and the world. The United States does not torture” – George W. Bush

On December 9, 2014, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a heavily-redacted, 525-page executive summary of its 6,700-page report on the CIA’s use of torture on terrorism suspects during the administration of President George W. Bush. As reported by The Intercept in December 2015, a year later the full torture report had not been made available to the public; further, the report has seemingly remained unread by most government officials. Regardless, one senator has called for the recall of all copies of the report – inspiring fears that it may be buried or destroyed, largely unread.

As noted by The Intercept, the full torture report was delivered to high-ranking individuals in executive agencies such as the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of State and the CIA. The CIA has reportedly made “very limited” use of the report.

According to a November 2015 letter written by Senators Dianne Feinstein (chair of the Intelligence Committee at the time of the report’s creation) and Patrick Leahy, the DOJ “refuse[d] to allow executive branch officials to review the full and final ...

United Kingdom: Prison Book Ban Overturned

A writ filed by Barbara Gordon-Jones, a prisoner at HM Prison Send in Surrey, southwest of London, resulted in the reversal of a policy instituted by the British government that effectively prevented prisoners from receiving books from friends and family members. Gordon-Jones, who is serving a life sentence, had argued that the books she received in parcels from her outside contacts were essential to her well-being.

The ban, which did not affect books already in institutional libraries, was implemented for security reasons, prison officials said, arguing that contraband had been mailed to prisoners in books.

“We can buy games consoles or DVD players but cannot get books for love nor money. And neither can we have them sent in,” said Nicholas Jordan, a prisoner at HM Prison Oakwood in Staffordshire, according to The Independent.

Blanket bans on books in U.S. prisons and jails have also been overturned in many jurisdictions, as courts have refused to uphold outright bans where prison officials have the means to inspect packages for contraband, or where books are mailed directly from the publisher or a bookseller.

Mr. Justice Collins, writing for the High Court of Justice, noted that the writ filed by Gordon-Jones ...

Mold-infested Prisons Sicken Guards and Prisoners

by Spencer Woodman, The Intercept

During much of her three years awaiting trial in New York’s Rikers Island jail, Candie Hailey was locked in a solitary confinement cell ventilated by a mold-covered air duct. The purpose of the vent was, of course, to pump fresh air into her 6-by-10-foot concrete room, but the mold infestation instead added to an array of hazards and discomforts that made her life unbearable at Rikers, where she made multiple attempts at suicide. “There was big, dark, gray, blackish mildew around the air vent and that’s where the air was coming from,” Hailey told me. “It’s what I was inhaling – it smelled like death.”

Hailey, who says she developed persisting asthma as a result of mold exposure, described overall conditions at Rikers that were so punishing not even the guards – who spent only a fraction of their time in the building – could withstand them. Hailey says that one officer implored her to complain to authorities about the conditions, as the employee feared she would be punished for doing so herself.

“‘Please call 311 or somebody,’” Hailey recalled a guard telling her. “That’s how bad it was.”

Hailey’s and her ...

Maryland Prisoner’s Death Occurs Under Unusual Circumstances

The death of prisoner Louis S. Leysath III, 35, at Maryland’s Jessup Correctional Institution was the subject of an investigation after he was found dead in a steam-filled cell on February 20, 2015. Leysath, serving a 30-year sentence after pleading guilty to first-degree murder for killing his girlfriend, was housed alone in the cell when he died.

Investigators determined that Leysath had damaged the heating unit in his cell, fell unconscious due to inhalation of released steam and, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, died as a result of “thermal injuries.” In other words he was scalded to death. Prison officials said Leysath had been placed in a single cell due to his erratic behavior; he was reportedly under “close observation,” though not on suicide watch.

No further details were offered by prison officials. However, as reported by the Baltimore Sun, three prison guards were placed on administrative leave, with pay, pending the outcome of the review. Following the conclusion of the investigation, prison officials declined to comment on whether any disciplinary action had been taken against the guards.

In October 2015, the Baltimore Sun obtained a copy of the investigative report. The Maryland Department ...

Former Pennsylvania Prison Doctor Sentenced for Fraud; Accomplices Convicted

The former medical director of Pennsylvania’s Lehigh County Prison (LCP) was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to numerous schemes to defraud the government.

Dennis Erik Fluck Von Kiel was employed as LCP’s medical director from March 1989 until August 2013. He was working for private contractor PrimeCare Medical, Inc. at the time of his termination.

On January 12, 2015, Von Kiel pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States, five counts of failure to file tax returns, one count of wire fraud and aiding and abetting wire fraud, one count of perjury in a bankruptcy proceeding, one count of financial aid fraud and aiding and abetting financial aid fraud, and two counts of mail fraud.

Beginning in 2001, Von Kiel had engaged in a series of illegal schemes designed to help him evade creditors, including those for federal student loans. He proclaimed to be under a “vow of poverty” and a “minister” of a church called the International Academy of Lymphology. He claimed he had no taxable income, as his employer deposited his payroll checks into bank accounts for the church.

Von Kiel also lied at a bankruptcy proceeding, filed a fraudulent ...

Alabama Prisoner Exonerated after Serving 30 Years on Death Row

After almost 30 years, Alabama death row prisoner Anthony Ray Hinton was freed on April 3, 2015 – at the age of 58 – when prosecutors dropped the charges against him.

At the time of his release, Hinton, who is black, told The Marshall Project that he believed racist officials, including prosecutors and police officers, had “lied on me and convicted me of a horrible crime for something I didn’t do.”

“They stole my 30s, they stole my 40s, they stole my 50s. I could not afford to give them my soul. I couldn’t give them me. I had to hold onto that, and the only thing that kept me from losing my mind was my sense of humor,” he added.

Hinton was convicted of committing murders during two fast food restaurant robberies. In both cases the victims were forced into the restaurants’ coolers and shot twice in the head. The first robbery occurred on February 25, 1985, the second on July 2, 1985.

Pressure mounted on law enforcement to solve the crimes. A manager at another restaurant was robbed and shot on July 25, 1985; he survived and police targeted Hinton after the manager identified him in ...

Rare Corporate Prosecution: West Virginia’s “King of Coal” Sentenced for Conspiracy in Mine Deaths

Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, conspired to “willfully violate mandatory mine health and safety standards” to maximize his personal profits, and on April 5, 2010, an explosion attributed to safety violations claimed the lives of 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. According to a federal safety inspection report, the workers might have survived “if basic safety measures had been in place.” Blankenship was not charged with or convicted of causing the explosion; rather, on December 3, 2015, after a six-week trial, the “King of Coal” was found guilty of one misdemeanor for conspiring to violate mine safety rules.

Had Blankenship killed those 29 miners with a handgun, he would have faced life imprisonment or the death penalty. Instead, exactly six years and a day after his failure to ensure safe working conditions at the Upper Big Branch Mine, resulting in 29 deaths, he was sentenced to a year in prison, a $250,000 fine and one year of supervised release – the maximum allowable punishment that U.S. District Court Judge Irene Berger could impose.

Many family members of the dead miners attended Blankenship’s trial and subsequent sentencing, and were devastated ...

News in Brief

California: The Los Angeles Police Department arrested an 81-year-old African American man for going “off topic” while giving public testimony at a June 21, 2016 Police Commission meeting, dragging him from the podium. Tut Hayes spoke weekly at the Commission meetings and had previously been arrested under similar circumstances at a meeting presided over by Commission president Matt Johnson. Hayes’ supporters said he is a long-time fixture in Los Angeles and an expert on the topic of California’s Ralph Brown Act – which specifies the requirements of open meetings for local legislative bodies. In the nine months since Johnson became president of the Police Commission, six African American citizens have been arrested for exercising their free speech rights.

California: According to Lt. Tony Quinn at Folsom Prison, on July 7, 2016, two prisoners murdered a third by stabbing him to death with a homemade weapon. Guards fired rubber bullets and used pepper spray and pepper spray grenades to stop the attack; three guards were treated for injuries sustained while trying to intervene. Investigators said prisoners Rudy De Lossantos, 38, and Michael Robles, 33, are suspected in the slaying of 33-year-old Humberto Torres. All three were serving time for murder.

California ...


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