Skip navigation

Prison Legal News: February, 2016

Issue PDF
Volume 27, Number 2

In this issue:

  1. Florida’s Department of Corrections: A Culture of Corruption, Abuse and Deaths (p 1)
  2. Will Lawsuits and Exposés Lead to Reform of Florida’s Brutal Prisons? (p 14)
  3. From the Editor (p 16)
  4. Sex Offenders Rally to Fight Discriminatory Laws (p 18)
  5. Computer Risk Assessments Gaining Popularity in Granting Paroles (p 20)
  6. Supreme Court Sets Aside Florida’s Death Penalty Sentencing Procedure (p 22)
  7. $3 Million Settlement in Death of Mentally Ill Prisoner; Three Guards Indicted (p 22)
  8. Federal Judges Very Rarely Sanctioned for Misconduct (p 24)
  9. Police State: How America’s Cops Get Away with Murder (Book Review) (p 28)
  10. Male Guards’ Videotaping of Female Prisoners Being Strip Searched Results in $675,000 Settlement (p 30)
  11. Supreme Court Upholds Oklahoma’s Use of New Execution Drug (p 30)
  12. California’s Jail-building Boom: What Comes After Mass Incarceration? Local Incarceration. (p 32)
  13. The Slow, Painful Death of Bail in New York City (p 35)
  14. Florida Jail Ends Postcard-Only Policy as Part of Settlement (p 36)
  15. Environmental Problems Taint Plan for New Prison in Utah (p 36)
  16. Oregon DOC Envelope Art Ban Violates First Amendment (p 38)
  17. $250,000 Settlement for Estate of PA Prisoner Killed by Mentally Ill Cellmate (p 38)
  18. Use of Pseudonym Merited to Protect Prisoner from Victimization (p 39)
  19. PLN Settles Lawsuit against Florida Jail’s Postcard-only Policy (p 40)
  20. Texas Prisons to Allow In-person Wedding Ceremonies after Prohibition on Proxy Marriages (p 40)
  21. Louisiana Jail Detainee’s Death Leads to FBI Investigation, Charges (p 41)
  22. European Human Rights Court Finds UK Prisoners Wrongfully Denied Vote (p 42)
  23. California: Settlement in Race-based Prison Lockdown Suit; $2.375 Million in Fees and Costs (p 42)
  24. $2,250 Jury Award in Arkansas Prisoner’s Excessive Force Case (p 43)
  25. In Past Three Years, Governors in Three States Declare Moratorium on Executions (p 44)
  26. New York Prisoner’s Retaliation Claim Nets $147,000 in Damages, Fees and Costs (p 45)
  27. From Jailer to Jailed: Former NYPD Boss Urges Prison Reform (p 46)
  28. Former Washington Prisoner Exonerated, Receives Compensation, Arrested Again (p 47)
  29. Human Rights Groups Condemn Worsening Conditions in Venezuelan Prisons (p 48)
  30. $725,000 Award for Eye Loss Caused by Guard’s Assault (p 48)
  31. Minnesota Civil Detainee Raped by Cellmate Receives $203,000 Settlement (p 50)
  32. Vermont’s Policy of Sending Prisoners Out-of-State Found Unconstitutional (p 50)
  33. Wisconsin DOC Pays Former Prisoner for Miscalculating Sentence (p 51)
  34. $350,000 Settlement for Estate of Prisoner Murdered at Georgia Prison (p 52)
  35. Judge to Recommend Whether to Exonerate “San Antonio Four” of Sexual Assault Convictions (p 52)
  36. Illinois: Exonerated Sex Offender Sues for Wrongful Conviction (p 54)
  37. Ninth Circuit: Appeal Challenges Probation Revocation for Exercising First Amendment Rights (p 55)
  38. Civil Rights Advocates Laud Healthcare Settlement with Arizona Prison System (p 56)
  39. Staff-on-Prisoner Sexual Abuse Persists in New York Prisons (p 58)
  40. Union Supply Overcharges Sales Tax on Holiday Packages for TN Prisoners (p 60)
  41. Settlement Ends Montgomery, Alabama Debtor’s Prison (p 61)
  42. News in Brief (p 63)

Florida’s Department of Corrections: A Culture of Corruption, Abuse and Deaths

Florida, with the nation’s third-largest prison system, has a long and sordid history of abusing, neglecting and even killing its prisoners. Because most state prisons are in insular rural areas, the general public, aside from those with incarcerated loved ones or friends, has minimal awareness of what really occurs within ...

Will Lawsuits and Exposés Lead to Reform of Florida’s Brutal Prisons?

Florida’s prisons have become notorious for their abuse and neglect of the people in their care. Now, as per an agreement between the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) and Disability Rights Florida, the state will be overhauling its system of treatment for people with mental illness at the Dade Correctional Institution (Dade ...

From the Editor

For the past 26 years PLN has reported on conditions within the Florida Department of Corrections that have generally ranged from horrible to abysmal in a system long characterized by medical neglect, brutality, corruption and murder by prison officials, and long-time indifference or outright hostility by the governor and legislature ...

Sex Offenders Rally to Fight Discriminatory Laws

Advocates for reforming laws restricting where registered sex offenders can live, and for challenging sex offender registries, have vowed to continue the fight despite facing roadblocks, which organizers admit make it difficult to eliminate the discriminatory treatment that many sex offenders face due to the nature of their convictions.

Victims’ ...

Computer Risk Assessments Gaining Popularity in Granting Paroles

New diagnostic computer programs designed to predict whether an offender will re-offend are being credited with helping reduce the number of prisoners in correctional facilities across the nation, but experts caution that while useful, the software tools are not perfect and should not be considered a panacea to long-standing issues ...

Supreme Court Sets Aside Florida’s Death Penalty Sentencing Procedure

The U.S. Supreme Court, in an 8-1 decision, has ruled that Florida’s system of allowing juries to make death penalty recommendations that judges may or may not follow is unconstitutional. According to Justice Sonia Sotomayer, the “jury’s recommendation is not enough. The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a ...

$3 Million Settlement in Death of Mentally Ill Prisoner; Three Guards Indicted

A $3 million settlement was paid to the parents of a 23-year-old mental health patient killed by three guards at Bridgewater State Hospital who were attempting to strap him into four-point restraints on a small bed. The incident also resulted in the resignation of the state’s top prison official.

Only ...

Federal Judges Very Rarely Sanctioned for Misconduct

Federal judges, who have lifetime appointments, hold positions that give them unique power to control the future of defendants who appear before them in public proceedings. However, when it comes to examining the personal behavior of those same jurists, they are surrounded by a cloak of secrecy so impenetrable that ...

Police State: How America’s Cops Get Away with Murder (Book Review)

Police State: How America’s Cops Get Away with Murder, by Gerry Spence
(St. Martin’s Press, 2015). 338 pages, hard cover. $19.40

Book review by Bill Trine

In recent years, the American public has witnessed shocking videos, taken by cell phones with video cameras, of citizens brutalized and killed by ...

Male Guards’ Videotaping of Female Prisoners Being Strip Searched Results in $675,000 Settlement

In August 2014, a Massachusetts federal district court granted summary judgment to a class of 176 former and current prisoners who challenged a policy at the Western Regional Women’s Correctional Center (WCC) that allowed male guards to videotape female prisoners being strip searched. The court held the policy violated the ...

Supreme Court Upholds Oklahoma’s Use of New Execution Drug

Oklahoma death row prisoners filed a § 1983 civil rights lawsuit challenging the use of a new drug by prison officials to put them to death, but their effort fell short in the U.S. Supreme Court. The state had sought to use midazolam instead of sodium thiopental to perform ...

California’s Jail-building Boom: What Comes After Mass Incarceration? Local Incarceration.

by Anat Rubin, Marshall Project

In the desert city of Indio, California halfway between Los Angeles and the Arizona border, a small monument to the state’s prison downsizing experiment is materializing in a shopping center storefront, where former felons will soon have access to health screenings, substance-abuse treatment, job training ...

The Slow, Painful Death of Bail in New York City

by Jarrett Murphy, City Limits

In September 2015, New York’s chief judge said he would order the review of all bails imposed in low-level cases where a defendant did not pay, and push courts to consider alternatives to the cash transactions that now determine whether thousands remain free or behind ...

Florida Jail Ends Postcard-Only Policy as Part of Settlement

Last year, the Sheriff of Florida’s Flagler County agreed to a settlement that revoked a postcard-only policy at his jail and allowed prisoners to receive and send mail in envelopes.

Jennifer Underwood’s husband was held at the Flagler County Jail, making them subject to the postcard-only policy. The policy required ...

Environmental Problems Taint Plan for New Prison in Utah

 

by Panagioti Tsolkas

Utah is planning to open a 4,000-bed facility to replace the Utah State Prison in Draper. After several years of considering whether to relocate or rebuild the prison, the state has settled on relocation of the Utah Department of Corrections (DOC) facility.

Draper used to ...

Oregon DOC Envelope Art Ban Violates First Amendment

On November 14, 2013, a federal judge denied summary judgment to Oregon prison officials, finding that their enforcement of a policy banning “envelope art” violated the First Amendment. Following a bench trial in early 2015, the district court held the policy unconstitutional and ordered injunctive relief.

The Oregon Department of ...

$250,000 Settlement for Estate of PA Prisoner Killed by Mentally Ill Cellmate

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PDOC) paid $250,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the estate of an elderly, handicapped prisoner who was killed by his psychotic cellmate at State Correctional Institution Forest.

Elwood Brasswell, 28, had a violent history attributed to his “acute psychotic behavior.” A diagnosis ...

Use of Pseudonym Merited to Protect Prisoner from Victimization

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held on May 27, 2015 that a California death-sentenced prisoner had submitted sufficient evidence to proceed under a pseudonym rather than his real name. The appellate court noted this was an exceptional case that required deviation from its normal practice to protect the prisoner ...

PLN Settles Lawsuit against Florida Jail’s Postcard-only Policy

After PLN filed suit, a South Florida federal district court granted a preliminary injunction requiring the St. Lucie County Jail (SLCJ) to keep its amended postcard-only policy in effect during the litigation, which later resulted in a settlement.

PLN filed a civil rights action challenging SLCJ’s postcard-only policy in December ...

Texas Prisons to Allow In-person Wedding Ceremonies after Prohibition on Proxy Marriages

Prisoners in Texas will once again be allowed to marry someone on the outside under new rules formulated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDJC) in the wake of an outcry of public opinion following a September 1, 2013 ban on marriage by proxy adopted by the Texas legislature ...

Louisiana Jail Detainee’s Death Leads to FBI Investigation, Charges

Nimali Henry, 19, died on April 1, 2014 while in the custody of the St. Bernard Parish Prison in Louisiana after jail employees failed to provide her with proper medication and treatment that they knew she needed.

The FBI initiated an investigation a month after Henry’s death due to a ...

European Human Rights Court Finds UK Prisoners Wrongfully Denied Vote

In August 2014, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France ruled against the United Kingdom and in favor of UK prisoners who were denied the right to vote in the 2009 European elections. The prisoners had argued that the UK’s voting ban constituted a violation of their ...

California: Settlement in Race-based Prison Lockdown Suit; $2.375 Million in Fees and Costs

On July 21, 2014, a California federal judge approved class-action status in a lawsuit filed by state prisoners challenging the statewide practice of race-based prison lockdowns. U.S. District Court Judge Troy L. Nunley of the Eastern District of California also appointed two law firms to represent the class. A ...

$2,250 Jury Award in Arkansas Prisoner’s Excessive Force Case

In a verdict handed down on August 21, 2014, a federal jury found in favor of an Arkansas prisoner who claimed prison guards had provoked him into attacking them so they could beat him. The jury award of $2,250 included compensatory and punitive damages.

Keith Moore, a state prisoner ...

In Past Three Years, Governors in Three States Declare Moratorium on Executions

In Past Three Years, Governors in Three States Declare Moratorium on Executions

by Christopher Zoukis

Three states have imposed moratoriums on the death penalty since 2013, raising to 11 the number of states that still have a death penalty but have stopped executing prisoners for reasons ranging from doubts about ...

New York Prisoner’s Retaliation Claim Nets $147,000 in Damages, Fees and Costs

A New York federal jury entered a verdict that awarded a state prisoner $40,002 in a case alleging a First Amendment retaliation claim, and post-trial the court awarded over $107,000 in attorney fees and costs.

New York prisoner Juan Hernandez initiated a pro se civil rights action against ...

From Jailer to Jailed: Former NYPD Boss Urges Prison Reform

“It’s time for America to stop destroying lives, professions, and children. It’s time for a real national bipartisan movement to make our criminal justice system what it is supposed to be.”

So declared former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik in an April 29, 2015 commentary for CNBC ...

Former Washington Prisoner Exonerated, Receives Compensation, Arrested Again

A wrongfully convicted former Washington prisoner was awarded $546,383 in compensation under a new state law for spending 10 years in prison on robbery and burglary charges for crimes he did not commit.

Brandon Redtailhawk Olebar was arrested following a February 2003 incident involving at least eight attackers who ...

Human Rights Groups Condemn Worsening Conditions in Venezuelan Prisons

As long ago as 1997, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch issued a report that characterized conditions in Venezuelan prisons as “violat[ing] both Venezuelan law and international human rights standards.” The group pointed to dangerous overcrowding as perhaps the greatest fundamental problem in that country’s prisons.

Recent reports ...

$725,000 Award for Eye Loss Caused by Guard’s Assault

A New York Court of Claims awarded $725,000 to a prisoner who lost an eye after being attacked by a jail guard.

Prisoner Warren Davis, 31, suffers from keratoconus, a congenital eye condition in which the cornea changes from a spherical to a more conical shape, adversely affecting vision ...

Minnesota Civil Detainee Raped by Cellmate Receives $203,000 Settlement

The state of Minnesota agreed to a $203,000 settlement in a lawsuit brought by a civil detainee at the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) that alleged a policy or custom of disregarding patient safety, resulting in the detainee suffering “a brutal physical and sexual assault by his roommate.” ...

Vermont’s Policy of Sending Prisoners Out-of-State Found Unconstitutional

A Vermont Superior Court held the policy of the Vermont Department of Corrections (VDOC) to send hundreds of male prisoners to out-of-state facilities, regardless of whether they have close bonds with their young children, while keeping all women prisoners at in-state facilities, violates the equal protection clause and common benefits ...

Wisconsin DOC Pays Former Prisoner for Miscalculating Sentence

On April 4, 2014, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) was ordered to pay $7,600 to former prisoner Robin N. Gavinski for holding him too long in prison. Gavinski was serving three sentences that were supposed to run concurrently; due to an administrative error, however, DOC employees calculated one ...

$350,000 Settlement for Estate of Prisoner Murdered at Georgia Prison

The Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) agreed to pay $350,000 to settle a civil rights action filed by the estate of a prisoner murdered at Hays State Prison (Hays).

As previously reported in PLN, in late 2012 and early 2013 four Hays prisoners were killed over a five-week period ...

Judge to Recommend Whether to Exonerate “San Antonio Four” of Sexual Assault Convictions

A San Antonio, Texas judge is considering what he will recommend to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals after hearing testimony that four women convicted of sexually abusing two young girls in 1994 should be exonerated. The women, who are known to their supporters and in the media as the ...

Illinois: Exonerated Sex Offender Sues for Wrongful Conviction

An Illinois man who was wrongfully convicted of a sex offense, and released from prison after his supposed victim was discredited, has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Chicago, the Chicago police department and other defendants as a result of his 2002 conviction for a rape he did ...

Ninth Circuit: Appeal Challenges Probation Revocation for Exercising First Amendment Rights

A former federal prisoner is appealing the revocation of his supervised release for engaging in conduct that he argues is protected under the First Amendment. The Cato Institute, Electronic Frontier Foundation, ACLU, Brechner First Amendment Project at the University of Florida and First Amendment Coalition filed a joint amicus brief ...

Civil Rights Advocates Laud Healthcare Settlement with Arizona Prison System

by Joe Watson and Derek Gilna

Civil rights organizations hailed the settlement of a class-action lawsuit filed against the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) in the wake of scores of prisoner deaths and preventable injuries stemming from medical treatment so poor that one private prison healthcare company withdrew from its ...

Staff-on-Prisoner Sexual Abuse Persists in New York Prisons

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals held on August 11, 2015 that guards who subject prisoners to sexual fondling may violate the prisoners’ constitutional rights. The ruling came in the wake of media reports that the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) has high rates of staff-on-prisoner ...

Union Supply Overcharges Sales Tax on Holiday Packages for TN Prisoners

Once a year, the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) allows prisoners and their family members to order special holiday packages, consisting mainly of snacks, candy and other food items. The holiday packages can include items totaling up to $125, and each prisoner can receive only one package. Orders can be ...

Settlement Ends Montgomery, Alabama Debtor’s Prison

Debtor’s prison has come to an end in the city of Montgomery, Alabama. Following a federal district court’s grant of a preliminary injunction requiring the city to correct its unconstitutional practice of jailing people who could not afford to pay fines, the city capitulated and entered into an extensive settlement ...

News in Brief

Alaska: Two prisoners walked away from the GEO Group-operated minimum-security Northstar Center, a transitional living facility near Fairbanks, in separate incidents on October 2, 2015. Steven David Luten, 30, absconded at around 11:00 a.m. but was tracked by his footprints in the snow and recaptured nearby. Abel Aguilar ...