Dozens of men have died in disturbing circumstances in privatized, immigrant-only prisons.
The Bureau of Prisons itself says there’s a problem. And yet the privatization scheme continues.
by Seth Freed Wessler, The Nation
Where Claudio Fagardo-Saucedo grew up, on the colonial streets of the Mexican city of Durango, migrating to the United States was almost a rite of passage. It was following the stream of departures from Durango in the 1980s that the lanky young man left his family and traveled north. His mother, Julieta Saucedo Salazar, heard that he’d found jobs working as a laborer in Los Angeles. But they soon lost touch. “We did not know much about him, really,” his younger sister told me.
Fagardo-Saucedo worked, his jobs sometimes taking him out of California, and occasionally he got into trouble – once for “possession for sale” of cocaine, another time for stealing jewelry. Every seven or eight years, his mother recalled, he’d return to her house – but never by choice. “They caught him all the time for being illegal,” Julieta said. She always hoped her wandering son might stay, get to know the family again, but he never did. “He would be here a month ...
Last year, Lincoln County, Missouri agreed to pay $260,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the family of a jail prisoner who committed suicide in 2011.
On August 21, 2011, police from the City of Troy responded to a domestic disturbance call at the home of Terry L. Marler ...
The 2016 elections are only a few weeks old and many people seem surprised that Donald Trump was elected president. What this means for prisoners at this point is a bit early to say, more so when juxtaposed against what might have happened had Hillary Clinton been elected.
In any event, the repressive apparatus of the modern American police state has long been in place. Obama’s administration has deported more immigrants than any other in U.S. history – around 2.5 million between 2009 and 2015. We already have over 800 miles of border wall separating the U.S. and Mexico, so presumably Trump will merely build upon the wall built by his predecessors; he isn’t starting anything new. With approximately 2.3 million prisoners held in abysmal and barbaric conditions nationally, we will see if Trump will reduce or boost those numbers. But neither candidate said anything about improving conditions for prisoners.
Clinton stated she would work to eliminate for-profit prisons, despite taking campaign donations from private prison firms and her husband’s bail-out that saved the private prison industry in 1999. The stock of private prison companies GEO Group and CoreCivic (previously Corrections Corporation of America ...
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals held an order vacating a sentence imposed by a lower court constitutes a favorable termination of proceedings under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994) [PLN, Sept. 1994, p.12], despite the fact that the order failed to expressly address the specific legal challenges to the sentence.
At issue was a Pennsylvania federal district court’s order dismissing a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action brought by Raymond Bronowicz against Allegheny County officials in the county’s Probation Office, as well as Judge Donald E. Machen.
Bronowicz was charged on July 5, 2000 with ten counts that ranged from terroristic threats to DUI. He entered a plea and was sentenced on four counts on June 6, 2001. He had fully served his sentence on three counts at sentencing, had two counts withdrawn per the plea, and was sentenced on four counts to prison and probation terms.
Between sentencing and up to November 2010, Bronowicz faced three separate arrests for violation of probation, resulting in further sanctions. At a January 2011 hearing on one of the violations, neither Bronowicz nor his attorney were in the courtroom when Judge Machen was presented with a purported ...
Federal monitors overseeing implementation of a consent decree concerning conditions at the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) in New Orleans said they were “very concerned” about the lack of progress in implementing the agreement’s provisions. Forty-nine prisoners died at OPP between April 2006 and November 2016, including several deaths that were not accurately reported, and problems have persisted at a new jail that opened after OPP closed last year.
As previously reported by PLN, after Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) finished haggling over costs and funding in a class-action lawsuit, a consent decree was reached in June 2013 to partially settle the case. The agreement required prompt action to reform unconstitutional conditions related to medical care, suicide prevention and safety measures, staffing and classification of pre-trial detainees. [See: PLN, June 2014, p.44; March 2010, p.30].
Under the agreement, Gusman was to hire a consultant, restructure OPP’s human resources department and hire a new human resources director; the Sheriff’s office was also required to hire a classification manager and a staff member to develop new policies and procedures at OPP, and purchase and install $70 ...
Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) guards Dianna Callahan and Kory Moore were suspended and subsequently fired on March 10, 2016 following the suicide of prisoner Janika Nichole Edmond, 25, at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in November 2015.
David S. Steingold, an attorney who represents Edmond’s family, is investigating whether the two guards took the woman’s suicide threats seriously. He claims other prisoners reported that Callahan made “a bet, jokingly, with another guard” that Edmond would ask for a suicide prevention garment. When she requested one, Callahan said someone owed her lunch and left. Moore, the acting resident unit manager, was accused of spending only one minute addressing other guards’ concerns about Edmond shortly before she hung herself with her underwear in a shower area. She reportedly had prior mental health problems.
“I think it’s safe to assume that it will be our position that there was ... deliberate neglect of duty,” Steingold said, indicating a lawsuit may be filed. “Had the personnel at the jail followed their own policy and procedures – their own mandatory policies and procedures – Ms. Edmond would still be alive today.”
According to an MDOC policy directive, staff must respond to life-threatening ...
On February 20, 2015, an uprising occurred at the Willacy County Correctional Center (WCCC), a private prison located in Raymondville, Texas that was operated by Utah-based Management and Training Corporation (MTC). The facility primarily housed criminal immigrant prisoners for the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The riot lasted two days, during which at least three of the ten Kevlar dome tents that comprised the prison suffered fire damage, resulting in the closure of the facility. It was one of the most significant prison riots in recent years.
WCCC was one of an archipelago of 13 privately-operated “Criminal Alien Requirement” (CAR) prisons scattered across the U.S. that hold non-citizens convicted of federal crimes such as illegal entry or re-entry into the country and, in some cases, drug offenses. [See this issue’s cover story.]
CAR prisons were built because “Operation Streamline,” a program designed to speed up the prosecution of undocumented immigrants, introduced by the federal government in the mid-2000s, resulted in over 90,000 immigration prosecutions in 2013 alone, overwhelming the BOP’s capacity. Approximately 24,000 prisoners are held in CAR facilities nationwide; the 2,834 who were housed at WCCC were so tightly packed in the Kevlar ...
Crime labs nationwide continue to face seemingly intractable problems – particularly in terms of unreliable forensic evidence testing and being influenced by law enforcement and prosecutorial bias. Despite efforts at reform, and efforts to implement technological advances, the field of criminal forensic science seems mired in incompetence and corruption.
In July 2013 the Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to review criminal cases that involved microscopic hair comparison analysis (commonly referred to as hair microscopy), based on reports that testimony about such evidence by crime lab analysts was often erroneous and may have resulted in wrongful convictions.
The joint review was initiated following a damning evaluation of hair microscopy by the National Academy of Sciences, which released a report in 2009 essentially finding the practice to be a form of “junk science.” The FBI had admitted as early as 1984 that microscopic hair comparison could not be used as a definitive means of identifying an individual. Nevertheless, the FBI and DOJ fully integrated the practice into their canon of investigative techniques, relying heavily on hair microscopy to obtain ...
The Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) and Columbus, Georgia attorney Mark C. Post filed a federal lawsuit on October 5, 2016 on behalf of Cleopatra Harrison and a potential class of other women who were charged controversial “victim fees” and threatened with jail if they failed to pay.
Harrison and the other women were victims of domestic violence whose cases were handled by the Columbus Recorder’s Court. The lawsuit claims a city ordinance requires the fee to be assessed if battered women refuse to cooperate with the police investigating their cases. If they fail to pay, they are told they can be jailed. Harrison was charged a $150 fee, which she could not afford, when she said she didn’t want to serve as a prosecution witness after being assaulted by her boyfriend.
Harrison’s attorneys argued the practice unconstitutionally punishes victims of domestic violence and lacks any basis in Georgia law. The city’s “policy toward women experiencing domestic violence sounds like something out of the nineteenth century,” stated SCHR attorney Sarah Geraghty. “It’s a holdover from an era in which women were blamed for male violence.”
The City of Columbus issued a statement shortly ...
This summer, prisoners at the Garner Correctional Institution (GCI) in Newtown, Connecticut responded to more than two decades of radon exposure at the facility by filing a class-action lawsuit.
“The length of time this went on didn’t have to happen,” said Lori Welch-Rubin, an attorney representing the prisoners along with attorneys Martin J. Minnella and Michael A. Stratton.
GCI opened in 1992 on land that was considered to have the highest potential for radon exposure, according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) records. In a 2014 report, the state health department found that parts of the prison had in excess of five times the acceptable EPA levels of radon, a radioactive gas.
The prison houses around 550 prisoners in general population, close custody and a mental health unit, as well as pre-trial detainees and a small number of federal prisoners. It employs almost 300 staff members.
The lawsuit was filed in August 2016 on behalf of nine named plaintiffs and other GCI prisoners who were exposed to excessive indoor radon gas, a recognized carcinogen. According to the complaint, exposing prisoners to high levels of radon gas, “far in excess of any published safe level for more than 20 years,” constitutes ...
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals joined other circuits in holding that a prisoner’s fear of retaliation may be sufficient to render the grievance procedure unavailable. The Court adopted a test that requires both a subjective and objective basis for such claims.
The case involved the dismissal of a civil rights complaint filed by California prisoner James McBride, who alleged he was subjected to excessive force by prison guards. McBride allegedly threw an unknown “burning liquid” into the eyes of guard S. Lopez on July 4, 2010 after he was told that he and other prisoners were to be housed in another building.
Several guards, including Lopez and R. Ruggles, “then punched and kicked him repeatedly in the head, causing bleeding and swelling.” After the incident, McBride was taken to administrative segregation and on a number of occasions Lopez and Ruggles visited McBride’s cell to tell him he was “lucky” because his injuries “could have been much worse.”
More than two months later, McBride filed a grievance alleging he was subjected to excessive force during the incident. The grievance was denied as untimely. McBride responded that he had delayed in filing the grievance due to the threatening statements ...
A man who was incarcerated in a New Mexico jail for 18 days settled his lawsuit against county commissioners and jail officials for $750,000 in December 2015.
Michael Faziani, who lives in Tennessee, moved temporarily to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico to receive treatment for his severe back pain ...
Rarely does the public find anything entertaining about a person who has been convicted of a crime and sent to prison. That is not the case with prison rodeos, however, which draw people from all over the U.S. and even other countries.
Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas have all operated prison rodeos in modern times. The Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola hosts the nation’s longest-running rodeo, which began in 1965 as a way to entertain prisoners and guards. The event was opened to the public in 1967 with a 4,500 seat arena, and a new stadium completed in 2000 increased the capacity to 7,500. The rodeo has been closely associated with longtime Warden Burl Cain, who retired in early 2016. [See: PLN, June 2012, pp.1, 10].
The Angola rodeo runs twice each year – once in the spring and every Sunday in October – under the salacious tag line, “Guts or Glory.” Between these combined events, the rodeo raises a substantial sum – $5 million in 2013, for example. In 2015, CBS Sunday Morning projected $4 million in revenue from the October rodeo alone.
While lucrative, controversy surrounds such events.
“A lot of people go to see the inmates ...
In a January 12, 2016 decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a prisoner successfully exhausts “such administrative remedies as are available” under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) “despite failing to comply with a procedural rule if prison officials ignore the procedural problem and render a decision on the merits of the grievance at each available step of the administrative process.”
Before the Court was the appeal of California prisoner David Reyes, who alleged in his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. Reyes suffered from a degenerative spine condition in January 2011 when Dr. Wesley Hashimoto recommended a regimen of pain medications that included morphine.
The prison’s Pain Management Committee, which included Chief Physician and Surgeon Dr. Christopher Smith and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Scott Heatley, originally approved the medications but ordered they would be gradually reduced and discontinued entirely by June 2011. As a result, Reyes filed a grievance asserting he suffered “unbelievable pain” due to the “drastic changes” to his medication regimen.
In response to his grievance Reyes was interviewed by a physician’s assistant (PA), who determined that morphine was not “‘medically ...
While California’s prison population is down, homicides among state prisoners in 2013 were up sharply over previous years. Deaths from drug overdoses in California prisons were up, too, and the suicide rate among state prisoners was more than 40% above the national average.
That was the analysis of the federal Receiver’s office, which since 2006 has been tasked with fixing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s broken medical care system. In October 2014, the Receiver issued a report that examined 366 prisoner deaths that occurred across the state during the previous year.
“A major piece of the quality improvement program is the death review,” Kent Imai, M.D., wrote in his report for the federal Receiver’s office. “Rigorous peer review of all prison deaths identifies serious lapses in care and records numbers of preventable deaths. The death review has been used to find opportunities for systemic improvement and to identify, counsel, and sanction any unsafe [medical] providers.”
Of the 366 prisoners who died in 2013, the death reviews found that 35 were “possibly preventable,” meaning that more adequate medical care “might have prevented or significantly delayed the patient’s death,” according to Imai’s analysis ...
On April 5, 2015, Ramon C. Estrada, 62, incarcerated since 2005, died at the Utah State Prison due to an apparent heart attack related to renal failure. His death was preceded by two days of missed dialysis treatments because a medical technician had failed to show up for work. Estrada ...
On January 1, 2016, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a Louisiana prisoner may sue prison officials for failing to credit him with good conduct time which would have shortened his sentence.
State prisoner Kenneth Owens was sentenced to thirty years at hard labor on January 4, 1989. Under La. Stat. Ann. § 571.3, he was eligible to receive good time credits for good behavior, labor or self-improvement activities. He signed a form, effective April 27, 1988, to receive “double” good time – thirty days of good time for every thirty days served – instead of incentive wages. In 1997 and 2003 he signed similar forms, which were dated effective January 5, 1997.
Owens complained that the effective date should have been his sentencing date: January 4, 1989. He exhausted his state administrative remedies seeking correction of the effective date, then filed a petition for an emergency state writ of habeas corpus.
The trial court dismissed the petition and Owens appealed. The Court of Appeals held that pursuant to Cox v. Whitley, 612 So.2d 158 (La. Ct. App. 1992), prisoners who were sentenced after July 1, 1982, and who were otherwise eligible for diminution of sentence, were eligible to ...
In a letter dated August 2, 2016, the director of Missouri’s Public Defender System called for Governor Jay Nixon – a licensed lawyer who was a four-term Attorney General before being elected governor – to represent an indigent defendant in Cole County. State Public Defender Michael Barrett cited MRS Section 600.042.5, which allows him to “[d]elegate the legal representation of any person to any member of the state bar of Missouri.”
In attempting to enlist Governor Nixon to assist his overburdened office, Barrett wrote, “[G]iven the extraordinary circumstances that compel me to entertain any and all avenues for relief, it strikes me that I should begin with the one attorney in the state who not only created this problem, but is in a unique position to address it,” referring to inadequate funding for the State Public Defender System.
Nixon fired back that Barrett’s appointment was illegal. “It is well established that the public defender does not have the legal authority to appoint private counsel,” said Scott Holste, the governor’s spokesman. On August 25, 2016, Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce agreed, ruling that Nixon should not be required to personally serve as a public defender.
“It is ...
George Williams, now 33, was in his prison cell watching TV as the scene that would lead to his brutal beating unfolded below him. Williams’ ordeal began during mail call in New York’s Attica Correctional Facility. On August 9, 2011, dozens of prisoners talking loudly at the same time filled the dayroom. A frustrated guard yelled at them to “Shut the [expletive] up.” An equally agitated prisoner replied from an upper tier, “You shut the [expletive] up.”
Minutes later three guards raced up the stairs, dragged Williams from his cell and pummeled him with their fists, feet and batons. Williams, who is 5’8” and 170 lbs., could only lay curled up on the floor begging for his life.
Sgt. Sean Warner, 5’11” and 240 lbs.; Keith Swack, 6’3” and 300 lbs.; and Matthew Rademacher, 6’0” and 260 lbs. brutalized Williams for about two minutes before summoning more guards. Erik Hibsch was one of several other guards who joined in the beating. At one point a guard stomped on a plastic safety razor, pried out one of the blades and said, “Here’s the weapon.”
Williams’ ordeal did not end there. Unable to walk, he was ...
These are flush times for California prison workers. In 2014, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) employees hit a six-year high for overtime pay, receiving $575 million in overtime despite a major decline in the state’s prison population.
Over a third of CDCR guards (more than 8,000) were paid over $100,000 in total wages, including overtime, in 2014. By contrast, only 10% of the state’s prison guards (around 2,400) had been compensated at that rate in 2006.
A three-judge federal court, citing extreme overcrowding, ordered the CDCR to significantly reduce its population in late 2009. From the time of that mandate to 2015, the number of California prisoners declined by over 25% while the number of prison guards dropped by just 10%.
Yet during that same time period the CDCR’s payroll costs increased 5.3%, with collective base pay awarded to members of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA, the union that represents about 29,000 prison employees) reaching $2.1 billion plus $340 million in overtime in 2015.
Much of the increase in payroll costs has been due to overtime compensation paid to guards, who, in some cases, received overtime amounting ...
David Dow has near-legendary status among death penalty attorneys in Texas. He works pro bono for clients whose lives literally depend on him; he takes their cases after they arrive on death row, often seeking to right the wrongs committed by their trial lawyers. Because the Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest appellate court for criminal cases in Texas, has exclusive jurisdiction over appeals filed by capital-sentenced defendants, that is the court Dow usually appears before.
But the Court doesn’t appreciate Dow, whose strong advocacy for death row prisoners is seen as disruptive or an attack on the criminal justice system itself. Dow, who founded the Texas Innocence Network and has represented over 100 prisoners sentenced to death, wouldn’t have it any other way.
However, being disfavored by the Court of Criminal Appeals comes with a price. On January 14, 2015, Dow was found in contempt and suspended from practicing before the Court for one year because he had filed a motion a day late. See: In re Dow, 2015 Tex. Crim. App. Unpub. LEXIS 149 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015), rehearing denied.
That harsh sanction was all the more egregious given the appellate court’s history of not ...
by Renee Feltz, The Indypendent
Back in 1978, Mujahid Farid had already decided to turn his life around when he entered the New York prison system to begin a 15-year-to-life sentence for attempted murder of an NYPD officer.
Held in Rikers Island while his trial was pending, Farid studied for – and passed – a high school equivalency exam. Over the next decade and a half “behind the walls” he earned four college degrees, including a master’s in sociology from SUNY New Paltz and another in ministry from New York Theological Seminary.
In the late 1980s he helped establish an HIV/AIDS peer education project that grew into the acclaimed program known as PACE, Prisoners for AIDS Counseling and Education, and began teaching sociology courses to people seeking their alcohol and substance abuse counseling certification.
By 1993, Farid had served his minimum sentence and was eligible for a hearing before the New York Parole Board. Given how hard he had worked to redeem himself, no one could blame him for being optimistic that they would agree to his release.
Instead, they spent five minutes asking him curt questions focused entirely on his original offense. Then the hearing ended.
“Not one bit ...
A Missouri Court of Appeals granted a prisoner’s writ of habeas corpus and ordered him “immediately released from custody.”
Before the state appellate court was the habeas petition of Andrew Kory. Kory was imprisoned on July 2, 2014 and charged with the rape of a minor. Those charges were dismissed on August 11, 2015, but that same day Kory was charged with felony rape, felony statutory rape and felony endangering the welfare of a child, based on the same incident.
Kory entered a guilty plea on December 16, 2015 to a lesser Class A misdemeanor of sexual abuse. That plea contemplated a one-year sentence, and at the time of the plea Kory had been confined 532 days.
Following the plea agreement, he arrived at the Daviess/DeKalb Regional Jail and received a commitment order that varied from the commitment order he was provided at the plea hearing. The revised commitment order contained a hand-written note stating the court was denying Kory credit for time served on the original charges filed in 2014. Thus, his one-year jail sentence was to run from August 11, 2015 to August 11, 2016.
Upon the filing of a habeas petition in the appellate court ...
Following a decision by Arizona prosecutors not to criminally charge a pair of Phoenix Fire Department (PFD) investigators who allegedly lied under oath and trained a dog to implicate innocent people, victims have pursued justice through civil litigation. During the course of one of those lawsuits, a wrongfully-accused woman found strong evidence suggesting that her own insurance company sought to aid in her conviction.
According to Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, the May 2009 investigation of a fire in an east Phoenix neighborhood, led by PFD Captains Sam Richardson and Fred Andes, involved “an utter breakdown in basic investigative techniques and procedures.”
However, while Richardson and Andes made “incorrect or impeachable statements” in the case, Montgomery declined to prosecute them in October 2014, saying the pair had skirted prosecution because Arizona law requires that they knowingly made false statements.
“Not bringing criminal charges obviously did not result in us saying that there was nothing wrong with what happened here, or with what the investigation identified,” Montgomery said.
Carl Caples was charged with arson in the east Phoenix fire after an arson dog named Sadie signaled to investigators that she smelled accelerants at the scene. Although Caples insisted during interrogation that ...
On October 5, 2016, the Huffington Post released disturbing video from inside a private prison in Texarkana, Texas that showed Michael Sabbie, a 35-year-old father of four, being violently flung to the ground by a group of six guards. Surveillance cameras recorded as Sabbie was then pepper-sprayed; he cried out “I can’t breathe” nineteen times and pleaded for medical attention before being placed in an isolation cell.
Sabbie was found dead at the LaSalle Corrections-operated Bi-State Jail on July 22, 2015, just 14 hours after his altercation with the guards. He had been suffering from pneumonia and spitting up blood at the time he was booked into the jail, and previously told a judge during a court appearance that he needed to go to a hospital. Instead, he received a 40-second exam by a jail nurse.
Erik Heipt, an attorney representing Sabbie’s family, said the respiratory distress that Sabbie experienced was a result of pulmonary edema, which was listed as “natural causes” in his autopsy report.
“I am told by a professor of emergency medicine that he was 95-99% savable at any point up to his death,” Heipt said.
Earlier in 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice ...
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that district courts may not enforce a prison’s procedural rule to find a failure to exhaust administrative remedies after prison officials declined to enforce the rule themselves. The Court also found the district court failed to undertake the proper two-step process to resolve motions to dismiss for failure to exhaust.
Georgia prisoner Shawn W. Whatley alleged that he was beaten on January 12, 2011 by guards at the Telfair State Prison and transferred within hours to Ware State Prison. He also claimed he was denied medical treatment. In response to his civil rights lawsuit, prison officials filed a 300-page motion to dismiss arguing that Whatley had failed to exhaust administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA).
The district court granted the motion. At issue on appeal were two grievances Whatley had filed. The first was a January 18, 2011 informal grievance in which Whatley addressed the beating and lack of medical care. He received a receipt for the grievance, but never received a response. About three months later he filed an appeal. There was no indication on the receipt as to what issues were raised in the ...
Those people unfortunate enough to have been incarcerated are all too aware of the harsh realities of life “on the inside.” Thanks to America’s fascination with prison as a solution for all anti-social behavior, as well as draconian sentences and the avarice of the private prison industry, more and more people are receiving an unwanted taste of imprisonment, which has created a niche market for prison survival self-help books.
The mass media, driven by the prosecutions of high-profile white-collar defendants, has also helped form a market for prison survival guides not only for those facing incarceration for the first time but also for people wanting a voyeuristic taste of a potentially violent environment where human interaction is stripped of its familiar social niceties. TV shows such as “Orange is the New Black” have exposed many Americans to a sanitized version of life behind bars, and for whose who want to know more, dozens of prison self-help manuals are available on Amazon.com.
Prison survival guides typically include a list of prison slang, common sense precautions to avoid scams and games, information about gangs and the day-to-day prison routine, and details concerning the disciplinary and grievance processes. Other topics range ...
The demographics inside French prisons have become a hot-button issue in the aftermath of eleven terrorist attacks that have occurred in France since January 2015. At least six individuals involved in those attacks are believed to have been inducted into radical Islam while they were incarcerated in France or Belgium.
According to some estimates, as many as 50% of France’s prison population is Muslim – an outrageous figure if true, considering that Muslims reportedly represent only about 12% of the nation’s overall population. Long before the ISIS-inspired January 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris that killed a dozen people at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, politicians on the right had been using those statistics to inflame negative attitudes toward Muslim immigrants from North Africa and other Islamic countries.
But Muslim leaders and human rights activists have cited similar data, arguing that even if the number of Muslims incarcerated in French prisons is inflated, the system is weighted against Muslims and reflects deep social and ethnic divides in France. The country’s social policies, they contend, have isolated Muslims in dilapidated neighborhoods with high unemployment rates and poor schools, giving Muslim immigrants and their French-born children little hope for upward mobility ...
A study released last year, prepared by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), documented what most criminal justice experts have long suspected – that offenders’ pre-arrest incomes are significantly lower than the incomes of people who are not incarcerated. Interestingly, the research did not require a new statistical study; it utilized data collected by the federal government’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) for other reports.
“All too often in criminal justice, the data we need doesn’t exist, but here the data was hiding in plain sight. The federal government collects the pre-incarceration incomes of incarcerated people in a periodic survey, but this data wasn’t being used,” said PPI senior policy analyst Bernadette Raduy.
The PPI report found that poverty clearly plays a role in who gets arrested, which raises corollary questions regarding the exploitation of prisoners – such as excessive prison and jail phone rates, and high bond amounts for minor charges. In short, the criminal justice system imposes fees and costs on those who are least able to afford them.
According to the study, “in 2014 dollars, incarcerated people had a median annual income of $19,185 prior to their incarceration, which is 41% less than non-incarcerated people of ...
Corizon Health and for-profit prison firm Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) have settled a lawsuit over the solitary confinement of a then-70-year-old prisoner following an alleged false positive drug test caused by Zantac, a heartburn medication.
Carol Lester, a former New Mexico state prisoner and a grandmother, filed a federal civil rights action after she was placed in solitary confinement for over a month at the New Mexico Woman’s Correctional Facility operated by CCA (now known as CoreCivic). Medical care at the prison was provided by Corizon.
Lester suffered from several serious ailments, including bipolar disorder, thyroid cancer and hypertension. While incarcerated she received several medications, including Zantac. After she lost consciousness in a sally port, prison medical staff told her she might have a life-threatening heart condition; however, she was not taken to a hospital or scheduled to see a cardiologist.
Lester and her family became concerned and began to advocate for better medical treatment for her and other prisoners. Lester also encouraged other prisoners to complain about inadequate health care, which allegedly angered prison officials.
As a result of those advocacy efforts, a delegation of state lawmakers visited the facility and spoke with Lester and other prisoners ...
In February 2012, a federal jury in New Mexico awarded $3.38 million to three female prisoners who were raped by Anthony Townes, a guard at the Camino Nuevo Women’s Correctional Facility, which was operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Townes, who had previously pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting the women, was sentenced to 16 years in prison. [See: PLN, April 2012, p.1; Jan. 2010, p.50].
The verdict was entered in a lawsuit brought by prisoners Heather Spurlock, Nina Carrera and Sophia Carrasco against CCA, Townes and former warden Barbara Wagner. The suit was filed in 2009, one year after the Camino Nuevo prison closed.
Evidence presented by the plaintiffs highlighted the egregious nature of Townes’ misconduct; he would remove prisoners from their cells and take them to an area of the facility where he knew he “would not be recorded or observed by surveillance cameras,” then raped and sexually assaulted them repeatedly.
The district court had ruled before trial that Townes was liable for violating the plaintiffs’ Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and it was up to the jury to determine damages as ...
Christopher Wallace, 30, was arrested on February 12, 2015 on charges of robbing two banks. According to his attorney, Wallace committed the crimes in a desperate attempt to secure funds to pay for feeding tubes he required because his esophagus had been severed from his stomach in a shooting incident three years earlier. Hospital records indicated that Wallace, who is 6’4”, weighed only 77 pounds at the time of his arrest.
A lawsuit filed in federal court on October 13, 2016 alleges a hospital released Wallace to the Allegheny County Jail with instructions for medical staff to administer five tube feedings each day. The complaint contends that Corizon Health and its employee, Dr. Abimbola Talabi, failed to feed Wallace properly, providing him with less than half of the required feedings and, on some days, not feeding him at all. The lawsuit further claims that the “deliberate indifference” of medical and jail staff resulted in Wallace suffering malnourishment and related health problems, including a heart attack.
A 2014 audit of the Allegheny County Jail following the deaths of seven prisoners found that Corizon had failed to maintain mandatory staffing levels, did not maintain accurate medical records and failed to provide ...
The District Attorney for Davidson County, Tennessee has banned the practice of seeking sterilization as part of plea bargains in criminal cases. The policy was implemented after an assistant prosecutor refused to discuss a plea unless a mentally ill defendant agreed to be sterilized.
When Glenn Funk, who had worked as a criminal defense attorney for 25 years, was elected as District Attorney in September 2014, there were concerns as to how well he would perform his duties. His involvement in the case of Jasmine Randers in early 2015 fulfilled his campaign promise to take a direct and active role in prosecutions.
Randers, 36, had suffered from mental health issues since the age of 15 and was hospitalized numerous times. “Treatment” for her condition mainly took place in America’s most populous de facto mental health facilities: jails.
When a dirty, disheveled and pregnant Randers arrived at the Nashville International Airport on October 9, 2012, she was on the run from a Minnesota commitment order. She spent the next 30 days at a Nashville mental health facility before her mother came to pick her up. Hours after they arrived home, Randers hopped on a Greyhound.
She traveled to Nevada, Utah ...
Elberto Esquiel Bravo, 55, the former warden at the East Hidalgo County Detention Center, was arrested in January 2015 and charged with acting as an accessory after the fact in a conspiracy to bribe Hidalgo County Justice of the Peace Jose Ismael “Melo” Ochoa to reduce the bond of a Mexican drug trafficker.
The detention center, operated by LCS Corrections Services at the time, holds prisoners for the U.S. Marshals as well as overflow prisoners from the Hidalgo County Jail. The facility has been the subject of past complaints over inadequate health care, lack of water and lack of recreation.
In February 2010, agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration asked the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office to conduct a traffic stop on Luis Martinez-Gallegos pursuant to an investigation into a major cocaine smuggling operation. Almost 90 kilos of cocaine were discovered in his car, and Ochoa set his bond at $2.45 million.
According to the criminal complaint filed against Bravo, three people who later cooperated with federal authorities conspired with others, including Bravo, to bribe Ochoa to reduce the bond so Martinez-Gallegos, who was in the U.S. illegally, could post bail and be deported to ...
On October 14, 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin held she would retain jurisdiction over a class-action civil rights lawsuit in order to determine the damages to be awarded former prisoners for the imposition or continuation of post-release supervision (PRS) by parole and prison officials after that practice was declared unconstitutional. The practice of imposing PRS on parolees when it was not ordered by a sentencing judge was found to violate the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in June 2006, in Earley v. Murray, 451 F.3d 71 (2d Cir. 2006). [See: PLN, April 2010, p.46].
The Earley court held that, as a consequence of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, only a judge could impose PRS – and the only way to impose it on a prisoner whose original sentence contained no mention of PRS was to have a new punishment trial. In ensuing years there were no new trials on punishment for the purpose of imposing PRS.
Despite the ruling in Earley and the lack of new trials, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) continued to impose PRS, and the New York State ...
Following 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri ignited by the killing of an unarmed black youth by a white police officer, some local law enforcement practices have been changed. The reforms were spurred, in large part, by a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) report that found Ferguson’s police department and court system were motivated in their tactics – which fell most heavily on the town’s African-American population – by the desire to generate revenue from citations, fines and court costs.
According to the March 2015 DOJ report, which detailed the “patterns and practice[s]” of Ferguson courts and law enforcement officials, while the town’s black population accounted for 67 percent of its overall population, that demographic accounted for 93 percent of all arrests, 90 percent of all citations issued and 85 percent of all traffic stops initiated by the Ferguson Police Department.
The DOJ found that Ferguson police and court officials had essentially applied excessive law enforcement tactics for the purpose of generating revenue off the backs of the town’s mostly black and impoverished residents. The report further noted that these types of practices were likely widespread in neighboring municipalities in St. Louis County.
As such, the DOJ ...
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) called the July 29, 2016 “retirement” of wardens at two state women’s prisons a “coincidence.” However, Colby Lenz, a legal advocate with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, commenting on the abrupt departures of the wardens at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) – Deborah “DK” Johnson – and the California Institution for Women (CIW) – Kimberly Hughes – said they appeared to be “forced retirements.”
Both facilities have been the subjects of lengthy state investigations. Problems at CIW have included a suicide rate five times the state and federal average, plus a high rate of methamphetamine use. CCWF is overcrowded and has been cited for a lack of supervision and a culture of sex abuse, fear and retaliation. Additionally, CCWF Associate Warden Travis Wright, 44, was arrested in June 2016 on several child sex abuse charges.
Observers contend the personnel changes are a move by CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan to clean house. “There are serious problems there, including verbal abuse of prisoners, failure to protect them from other prisoners, contraband, sexual abuse – mostly in the form of ‘If you do me a favor, I’ll do you a favor’ – that kind of thing ...
Corrections officials tend to have a single-track mindset: guards oversee prisoners in an attempt to maintain security and order. But what if the looking glass needs to be reversed and the jailers need to be overseen instead? With identity theft perpetrated by prison and jail employees on the rise, that option needs to be seriously considered.
But who would want to steal the identity of a prisoner? Unfortunately, for all the drawbacks that come with being incarcerated, prisoners’ limited ability to access their credit rating – or to otherwise protect their personal information or become aware of identity theft – makes them an attractive target. All identity thieves need are names matched with valid Social Security numbers and other personal data – particularly when filing fraudulent income tax returns, since most prisoners don’t file tax returns anyway.
According to a 2014 report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, while in 2009 there were only 37,000 false tax returns filed using prisoners’ Social Security numbers, in 2012 the number reached 137,000. Many of the tax returns were filed by prisoners attempting to run scams, or by accomplices with the prisoners’ knowledge and consent. [See: PLN, Dec. 2014, p.46 ...
Prisons are designed to be closed institutions, cut off from the rest of the world. Contraband cell phones, however, are opening them up and exposing the reality of what happens behind the walls. When Demetria Harris saw a photo of her son, incarcerated at the Burruss Correctional Training Center (BCTC) in Forsyth, Georgia, she was horrified.
The picture, posted online in late March 2015, had a caption that read, “When you disrespect the Nation, it brings nothing but pain and suffering.” The term “Nation” was a reference to the Gangsta Disciples gang, also known as “GD Nation.”
In the photo, Harris’ son, Cortez Berry, then 17 years old, had a swollen eye and was hunched down with a makeshift leash around his neck held by one of two prisoners standing menacingly behind him. Harris had learned of the picture and her son’s beating when a friend told her the photo, uploaded by BCTC prisoners using an illicit cell phone, was circulating on Facebook.
By the beginning of April 2015 the picture of Berry had gone viral, attracting nationwide media attention and the interest of such high-profile individuals as Reverend Al Sharpton. Shortly following the publication of the photo, a ...
On June 24, 2015, a Tennessee appellate court found the sheriff of Marshall County had willfully denied access to public records requested by Prison Legal News, and held that PLN was entitled to attorney fees after filing suit to obtain the records.
As previously reported, in February 2014, PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann requested copies of contracts and policies, including policies relating to prisoner medical care, in effect at the Marshall County Jail. Sheriff Norman Dalton refused to comply with the request unless Friedmann appeared in person – which was not required by Tennessee’s public records law. Friedmann filed suit in chancery court, and following a trial the court ordered production of the records at no cost but declined to award attorney fees and costs.
Friedmann’s counsel, Robert Dalton (the sheriff’s brother), appealed the denial of fees and costs. The appellate court’s order began by reciting the extensive efforts Friedmann had made to obtain the records after they were denied by the sheriff, who had relied on incorrect advice from the county attorney. [See: PLN, Jan. 2015, p.32]. The Court of Appeals held the imposition of a personal appearance condition to obtain public records was not ...
As bad as it gets in some U.S. prisons, conditions at the notorious Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town, South Africa are so abysmal that the government was forced to temporarily close the facility and evacuate prisoners after two contracted a fatal rat-borne disease.
In 2015, around 4,000 prisoners were removed from the maximum-security prison where Nelson Mandela was once incarcerated. The transfers were made in massive convoys, said Ntobela Mketshane, Pollsmoor’s area commissioner. The shutdown of Pollsmoor – which was overcrowded by 300 percent – was necessitated after two prisoners died due to leptospirosis, a bacterial disease spread by rat urine.
Conditions at the facility were terrible, with up to three prisoners sharing one lice-infested bed; some suffered from starvation and others from untreated illnesses. Constitutional Court Judge Edwin Cameron, who inspected Pollsmoor, wrote: “The extent of overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, sickness, emaciated physical appearance of the detainees, and overall deplorable living conditions were profoundly disturbing.” Cameron reported prisoners with boils, scabies and wounds from “lice-infested bedding that has never been washed.”
Correctional services spokesman Manelisi Wolesa said the evacuation of prisoners from Pollsmoor was to prevent an outbreak of leptospirosis. He claimed prison administrators were fumigating the facility.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that an insurance company is not required to defend or indemnify a private prison contractor in the death of a pretrial detainee at a Texas jail.
Mario Garcia was confined at the Brooks County Detention Center, operated by LCS Corrections Services, Inc. (LCS). He was taking high doses of benzodiazepine prescribed by his personal physician when he was booked into the jail, and it was alleged he died because LCS staff refused to provide him with additional doses of that medication.
Garcia’s estate filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint alleging constitutional violations and state law medical malpractice claims. The federal district court allowed only the medical malpractice claims to go to trial, which resulted in a $2.25 million verdict. [See: PLN, April 2014, p.16]. Following that verdict, the district court allowed the § 1983 claim to proceed, which alleged “LCS’s policy of refusing to administer certain medications to inmates constituted deliberate indifference to Garcia’s serious medical needs.”
LCS then initiated a separate action in another district court seeking a declaration that Lexington Insurance Company was required to defend and indemnify LCS in the underlying § 1983 lawsuit. At ...
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams belatedly reported $160,050 in gifts from political and legal connections, raising conflict of interest concerns and prompting an August 19, 2016 apology from the prosecutor to his staff.
In an email, Williams apologized for any “distractions” created by the “adverse publicity” surrounding his unreported monetary enrichment. The DA’s financial records detailed six years’ worth of gifts, including $45,000 in home repairs, sideline passes to Eagles games, luxury vacations and cash. Some of the donors included members of Williams’ security detail, an attorney who was later elected to a judgeship and football executives who had seen players investigated by the DA’s office.
Mustafa Rashed, a campaign spokesman for Williams, said the district attorney was “more concerned about the late disclosure filings being the news and a distraction to the dedicated 600 men and women in the DA’s office, which is why he sent the email.”
Richard Hoy, a longtime Philadelphia lawyer who has defended many people facing prosecution by Williams’ office, said that when he allowed Williams’ family to vacation at his Key West, Florida beach house, “I never considered it a gift. I considered it a friend using my home ...
Alabama: St. Clair Correctional Facility guard Deandre Price resigned just after his July 5, 2016 arrest for possession of a controlled substance and promoting contraband within a state correctional facility. Price was caught with drugs and other contraband as he reported for work; Alabama Department of Corrections officials said he had been employed at the prison for only a few months. His arrest was the second time in less than two months that a guard was arrested for smuggling contraband at St. Clair. In May 2016, guard V’aires Davis, 24, was arrested on similar charges for trying to sneak marijuana into the facility.
Arizona: According to a June 24, 2016 filing in a court case challenging the constitutionality of the state’s execution methods, the Arizona Department of Corrections’ supply of lethal injection drug midazolam had expired and the state was unable to replace it, leaving the executions of at least seven death row prisoners in limbo. The court filing also indicated that the DOC lacked other lethal injection drugs, namely pentobarbital and sodium thiopental. Arizona has not carried out an execution since 2014, when prisoner Joseph Wood took almost two hours to die after being injected with midazolam ...