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Prison Legal News: May, 2016

Issue PDF
Volume 27, Number 5

In this issue:

  1. Alabama Forced to Confront Criminal Justice Reform (p 1)
  2. From the Editor (p 14)
  3. Low Pay, Long Hours Fuel Increasing State Prison Staffing Problems (p 15)
  4. PLN Exclusive: Illinois Prisoner Exonerated, Released after Ten Years (p 16)
  5. How Prison Phone Calls Became a Tax on the Poor (p 18)
  6. ACLU Report: Women Uniquely Harmed by Solitary Confinement (p 22)
  7. Lawsuit Filed Over Death of Pepper-sprayed, Mentally Ill California Prisoner (p 24)
  8. Ninth Circuit: Witnesses Cannot Refuse to Testify at Civil Trial (p 26)
  9. Supreme Court Reverses SORNA Notification Requirement when Sex Offenders Move Overseas (p 26)
  10. $1,000 Jury Award in Texas Prisoner’s Excessive Use of Force Suit (p 27)
  11. California’s Inspector General Cites Abuses at High Desert State Prison (p 28)
  12. Fourth Circuit Finds 20 Years in Solitary an Atypical and Significant Hardship (p 28)
  13. New York: $35,000 Awarded for Three-week Illegal Confinement (p 29)
  14. Why is California Thumbing its Nose at a Federal Court? (p 30)
  15. Warden’s Decision to Quarantine Handicapped Person in Unaccommodated Cell Actionable; $200,000 Settlement (p 32)
  16. Tennessee Sheriff’s Denial of Public Records Merits Attorney Fee Award (p 32)
  17. Suit Filed Over New Hampshire DOC’s Restrictive Mail Policy (p 33)
  18. Second Circuit: Administrative Remedies Unavailable for Beating at Holding Facility (p 34)
  19. BOP Recognizes Humanist Religion after Prisoner Files Suit (p 34)
  20. Second Circuit: Truth of Arrest Remains Despite Connecticut “Erasure” Law (p 35)
  21. A “Quantum Leap” Isn’t Far Enough for the Prison Phone Industry (p 36)
  22. Hawaii Prisons Experience Security Failures, Other Troubling Incidents (p 38)
  23. Delaware Prisoners Sue DOC Alleging Sexual Assaults by Prison Doctor (p 40)
  24. Seventh Circuit: Former Parolee May Sue Over Delayed Release from Parole (p 40)
  25. Idaho Prison Population Drops, Out-of-State Prisoners Re-turned (p 41)
  26. California Jail’s Psychotropic Medication Policy Leads to Lawsuit, Settlement (p 42)
  27. Prisoners in Chicago Learn Skills, Improve Neighborhoods by Demolishing Vacant Homes (p 44)
  28. Report Documents U.S. Recidivism Rates for Federal Prisoners (p 44)
  29. Medically Unacceptable Biopsy States Eighth Amendment Claim (p 45)
  30. Prisoner Rights Advocates Disappointed with Pace of Obama Clemency Initiative (p 46)
  31. Nonviolent Michigan Offenders Can Seek Expungement Under New Law (p 47)
  32. Fourth Circuit Upholds Denial of Summary Judgment to Guards in Excessive Force Suit (p 48)
  33. BOP Pays $70,000 to Settle Lawsuit by Sexually Abused Transgender Prisoner (p 48)
  34. Lawsuit Claims Florida Teen Raped, Beaten in Prison Initiation Ritual (p 49)
  35. Audits Expose Irregularities in Iowa Prison System Spending (p 50)
  36. Seventh Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Ex-prisoner’s § 1983 Action Regarding Computer Disk (p 50)
  37. California Supreme Court Rules in Prisoner’s Favor in Compassionate Release Denial (p 52)
  38. $30,000 Settlement for New York Prisoner Assaulted by Guard (p 53)
  39. Florida’s Private Prison Movement Alive and Well (p 54)
  40. Delaware Supreme Court Suspends Prosecutor for Misconduct (p 56)
  41. $15 Million Award for Prisoner Rendered Paraplegic Due to Medical Malpractice Affirmed (p 56)
  42. L.A. County Audit Recommends More Contract Oversight for Probation Department (p 57)
  43. Corrections Agencies Use Obamacare to Pay for Prisoners’ Medical Care (p 58)
  44. $8,000 Settlement for Medical Maltreatment by BOP; Court Finds Experts Not Required (p 60)
  45. Disputed PLRA Administrative Exhaustion Issues Properly Resolved in Bench Trial (p 60)
  46. UK Supreme Court Rules Against Unlawful Use of Solitary Confinement (p 61)
  47. Former U.S. Attorney General’s Legacy: Too Little, Too Late (p 62)
  48. News in Brief (p 63)

Alabama Forced to Confront Criminal Justice Reform

“We’re at a fork in the road,” Alabama state Senator Cam Ward, chairman of the Prison Reform Task Force, said in June 2014. “We have two paths to choose from and neither one is easy. Those of us on the task force can solve, it or federal courts can ...

From the Editor

Welcome to the 26th anniversary issue of Prison Legal News! I would like to thank all the people around the country who have helped PLN and the Human Rights Defense Center grow and prosper over the past 26 years. This includes all of our subscribers, readers, funders, advertisers, book purchasers ...

Low Pay, Long Hours Fuel Increasing State Prison Staffing Problems

The slow decline in state prison populations cannot come soon enough for many Departments of Corrections, which are struggling to cover shifts in the face of rising staff turnover rates. States experiencing shortages of prison guards include Kansas, Tennessee, Arizona, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan, Missouri and West Virginia.

Kansas ...

PLN Exclusive: Illinois Prisoner Exonerated, Released after Ten Years

The lies of Chicago police officers, as well as the concealment of clearly exculpatory evidence, kept Jermaine Walker in Illinois prisons for ten years – but he never stopped proclaiming his innocence. Plainclothes officers contended that on February 21, 2006, at approximately 8:30 p.m., they saw Walker hand ...

How Prison Phone Calls Became a Tax on the Poor

by Eric Markowitz, International Business Times

On a recent sticky morning in a trailer park in Biloxi, Mississippi, Mary Jo Barnett switched on her 8-inch Samsung Galaxy tablet to speak with her 20-year-old daughter, Amber, who suffers from bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Amber is currently locked up 490 ...

ACLU Report: Women Uniquely Harmed by Solitary Confinement

In April 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a report on the use of solitary confinement for women prisoners in the United States. The report concluded that while solitary was an extreme punishment that should not be used on anyone unless lesser measures have failed and the prisoner ...

Lawsuit Filed Over Death of Pepper-sprayed, Mentally Ill California Prisoner

The father and mother of a mentally ill California prisoner who died at the Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP) have filed suit against a host of prison and Amador County, California officials, alleging that their son’s death was the direct result of being pepper sprayed and then deliberately neglected when ...

Ninth Circuit: Witnesses Cannot Refuse to Testify at Civil Trial

On March 31, 2015, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a magistrate judge abused her discretion by allowing prisoners to opt out of testifying at a civil rights trial alleging guards had used excessive force on another prisoner.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by California prisoner ...

Supreme Court Reverses SORNA Notification Requirement when Sex Offenders Move Overseas

The federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), 42 U.S.C. § 16901, et seq., requires registered sex offenders to advise law enforcement officials within three business days of their change of address or intent to reside in a jurisdiction subject to SORNA. However, according to an April ...

$1,000 Jury Award in Texas Prisoner’s Excessive Use of Force Suit

On August 18, 2014, a Texas federal jury awarded a state prisoner $1,000 on his claim of excessive use of force by a prison guard. Enforcement of that judgment, however, would prove difficult.

Florencio Hernandez was incarcerated at the Stiles Unit in Beaumont, Texas when he became involved in ...

California’s Inspector General Cites Abuses at High Desert State Prison

A special report by Robert A. Barton, Inspector General of the State of California, released in December 2015, highlighted numerous problems at the High Desert State Prison in Susanville. The California Senate Committee on Rules had requested the report to study allegations of excessive use of force against prisoners, the ...

Fourth Circuit Finds 20 Years in Solitary an Atypical and Significant Hardship

On July 1, 2015, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found the “20-year period of solitary confinement” endured by a South Carolina prisoner “amounts to an atypical and significant hardship in relation to the general population and implicates a liberty interest in avoiding security detention.” It also found a ...

New York: $35,000 Awarded for Three-week Illegal Confinement

The Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division has upheld a $35,000 damage award in favor of a former prisoner illegally confined for three weeks.

In October 2007, Robert Miller was charged with second- and third-degree drug offenses. He pleaded guilty to a single third-degree offense in March 2009 ...

Why is California Thumbing its Nose at a Federal Court?

The Ex Post Facto Clause of the Constitution provides that the government can’t retroactively increase the penalty for criminal conduct. It applies not just to initial sentence length but also to potential “good-time credit” prisoners can earn to reduce their sentences.

In California, prior to 2010, prisoners in the general ...

Warden’s Decision to Quarantine Handicapped Person in Unaccommodated Cell Actionable; $200,000 Settlement

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a warden who placed a double amputee prisoner with MRSA in a segregation unit without handicap accommodations was not entitled to qualified immunity.

When Martinique Stoudemire, 23 at the time, entered the Michigan Department of Corrections in 2002, she had a long ...

Tennessee Sheriff’s Denial of Public Records Merits Attorney Fee Award

A Tennessee appellate court held the sheriff of Marshall County had willfully denied access to public records requested by PLN. Consequently, the plaintiff was entitled to attorney fees after filing a lawsuit to compel production of the records.

In February 2014, PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann requested various policies and ...

Suit Filed Over New Hampshire DOC’s Restrictive Mail Policy

On December 18, 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm of Bernstein, Shur, Sawyer and Nelson, P.A. filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a three-year-old child and his grandmother, claiming that the New Hampshire Department of Corrections’ (NHDOC) mail policy was overly-restrictive and unconstitutional.

The ...

Second Circuit: Administrative Remedies Unavailable for Beating at Holding Facility

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals held the defendants in a civil rights action failed to establish that a prisoner had an available administrative remedy for exhaustion purposes under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA).

After a New York federal district court granted summary judgment to the defendants, prisoner Gregory ...

BOP Recognizes Humanist Religion after Prisoner Files Suit

The American Humanist Association, affiliated with over 1,000 congregations in the United States, has been a recognized religion for decades – but it took a civil rights complaint by a federal prisoner at FCI Sheridan in Oregon to finally get the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to recognize it as ...

Second Circuit: Truth of Arrest Remains Despite Connecticut “Erasure” Law

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that Connecticut’s “Erasure Statute” does not render factually-true statements about a person’s arrest false.

Connecticut law allows for the destruction of arrest records if an individual is found not guilty, pardoned or the charges are nullified or dismissed. “Any person who shall have ...

A “Quantum Leap” Isn’t Far Enough for the Prison Phone Industry

The December 2015 issue of Prison Legal News detailed a historic October 2015 rulemaking decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to comprehensively reform the prison phone industry. Regular PLN readers are all too familiar with abuses by prison phone companies, which have long price-gouged prisoners and their families. [See ...

Hawaii Prisons Experience Security Failures, Other Troubling Incidents

Operations and management at two Hawaii prisons are under scrutiny following a series of incidents over the past several years that have ranged from prisoner deaths and escapes to sexual harassment by staff members and the beating of a prisoner that resulted in criminal charges.

Five deaths during a two-month ...

Delaware Prisoners Sue DOC Alleging Sexual Assaults by Prison Doctor

In a case of alleged staff misconduct at a Delaware prison, nine prisoners filed suit in Sussex County Superior Court alleging that a former prison doctor sexually assaulted them on numerous occasions.

The prisoners’ lawsuit claims that Dr. Lawrence McDonald committed the assaults under the pretext of performing medical exams ...

Seventh Circuit: Former Parolee May Sue Over Delayed Release from Parole

On May 19, 2015, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that a former parolee may pursue an Eighth Amendment claim in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights suit alleging a parole officer had intentionally delayed her release from supervision until after her parole end date.

Aimee ...

Idaho Prison Population Drops, Out-of-State Prisoners Re-turned

In a positive sign of declining prison populations, on February 10, 2016, Idaho Department of Correction Director Kevin H. Kempf announced that all 173 state prisoners remaining at the Kit Carson Correctional Center, a Colorado facility operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), would be returned to Idaho and housed ...

California Jail’s Psychotropic Medication Policy Leads to Lawsuit, Settlement

Cost cutting is a staple of most prison and jail systems. However, a mid-2007 decision by California’s Fresno County Jail (FCJ) to restrict psychotropic drugs for prisoners turned out to be a short-sighted exercise that resulted in human suffering and financial costs far exceeding any savings.

FCJ was accredited in ...

Prisoners in Chicago Learn Skills, Improve Neighborhoods by Demolishing Vacant Homes

Cook County, Illinois has become the first county in the nation to employ a new, double-edged strategy to attack neighborhood blight and train jail prisoners for productive employment following their release, by using prisoner labor to tear down abandoned houses that erode property values and, in many cases, become magnets ...

Report Documents U.S. Recidivism Rates for Federal Prisoners

The U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC), an independent agency within the judicial branch which writes federal sentencing guidelines and studies federal crime and sentencing policies, released a major new study in March 2016 titled “Recidivism Among Federal Offenders: A Comprehensive Overview.”

Drawing on data on more than 25,400 former ...

Medically Unacceptable Biopsy States Eighth Amendment Claim

In an unpublished ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held the estate of California prisoner Robert Staggs stated a claim that prison doctors were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs.

The matter was before the Ninth Circuit after the district court dismissed the case at the pleading stage ...

Prisoner Rights Advocates Disappointed with Pace of Obama Clemency Initiative

President Barack Obama made news in December 2015 when he commuted the sentences of 95 federal prisoners. However, with only one year left in his second term, it is unlikely that he will act on thousands of pending clemency applications – even after he made granting clemency a top priority ...

Nonviolent Michigan Offenders Can Seek Expungement Under New Law

A recently-enacted Michigan law allows an offender convicted of a nonviolent felony or two misdemeanors to ask a judge to expunge their criminal record. The expungement bill had been in the works for several years before it was passed in a lame-duck session in December 2014.

The new statute amends ...

Fourth Circuit Upholds Denial of Summary Judgment to Guards in Excessive Force Suit

In a May 19, 2015 decision, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court’s denial of summary judgment to prison guards in a lawsuit claiming excessive use of force during a cell extraction.

Sammy Ussery, a North Carolina state prisoner, was injured during a cell extraction at the ...

BOP Pays $70,000 to Settle Lawsuit by Sexually Abused Transgender Prisoner

Samantha Hill, a male-to-female transgender prisoner in the custody of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), was raped at USP Florence in December 2013 – one of many sexual assaults the BOP failed to prevent through either neglect or incompetence, despite the requirements of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA ...

Lawsuit Claims Florida Teen Raped, Beaten in Prison Initiation Ritual

Florida’s correctional facilities for youthful offenders are part of the state’s adult prison system, and Florida incarcerates more minors than any other state in the nation. Approximately 140 juveniles are housed in detention centers on any given day, and in July 2013 that included a 17-year-old identified only as “R ...

Audits Expose Irregularities in Iowa Prison System Spending

Over the five-year period ending June 30, 2014, officials in the 6th Judicial District of the Iowa Department of Correctional Services misspent $1.2 million, mostly for improper payroll costs to workers at the Community Corrections Improvement Association, a non-profit agency started in 1991 by Gary Hinzman, a longtime district ...

Seventh Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Ex-prisoner’s § 1983 Action Regarding Computer Disk

Craig A. Childress was an Illinois state prisoner at the Big Muddy River Correctional Center who was released from custody to mandatory supervised release in 2010. At the time of his release, a prison official placed a computer disk containing Childress’ resume into his property, despite the fact that Childress ...

California Supreme Court Rules in Prisoner’s Favor in Compassionate Release Denial

California’s Supreme Court has held that prisoners who are denied early release under the state’s compassionate release statute have a right to appeal the denial, reversing an appellate court decision that found prisoners had no such right.

The state’s high court ruled unanimously on March 5, 2015 in favor of ...

$30,000 Settlement for New York Prisoner Assaulted by Guard

A New York state prisoner received almost $30,000 to settle a civil rights action alleging he was assaulted by a guard at the Fishkill Correctional Facility.

Prisoner Mayer Sadian, an orthodox Jew, approached a guard on May 14, 2011 in the mess hall during the lunch hour. The guard ...

Florida’s Private Prison Movement Alive and Well

With the promise of saving taxpayer dollars to house a growing prisoner population during a cyclical crime wave in the early 1990s, Florida decided to experiment with private prisons. From the start, those involved in the push to privatize were tainted with ethical conflicts, and more than two decades later ...

Delaware Supreme Court Suspends Prosecutor for Misconduct

On July 27, 2015, the Delaware Supreme Court suspended Deputy Attorney General R. David Favata for six months and a day, for prosecutorial misconduct involving the capital case of McCoy v. State, 112 A.3d 239 (Del. 2015). The case was referred by the Board of Professional Responsibility, which investigates ...

$15 Million Award for Prisoner Rendered Paraplegic Due to Medical Malpractice Affirmed

The New York Supreme Court Appellate Division has affirmed a $15 million judgment awarded to a prisoner who became a paraplegic due to a prison doctor’s malpractice.

Following the judgment by the Court of Claims, the State of New York appealed; PLN previously reported the judgment. [See: PLN, Jan. 2014 ...

L.A. County Audit Recommends More Contract Oversight for Probation Department

The County of Los Angeles, like most governmental agencies, receives funding from a variety of sources and relies on outside contractors to perform many services – including correctional services. L.A. County’s Probation Department was the subject of a July 2015 audit related to its budgeting process for juvenile halls ...

Corrections Agencies Use Obamacare to Pay for Prisoners’ Medical Care

by Christopher Zoukis and Matt Clarke

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Obama’s signature piece of legislation, has resulted in an unintended windfall: a means to shift the cost of expensive hospital care for state and local prisoners to the federal government. In addition, creative uses of the ACA’s new ...

$8,000 Settlement for Medical Maltreatment by BOP; Court Finds Experts Not Required

Federal prisoner Michael Alan Crooker filed suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act alleging “malicious prosecution, negligence, and medical maltreatment by the United States Marshal’s Service (USMS) and the United States Bureau of Prisons (BOP).” Proceeding pro se, he survived a motion for summary judgment and eventually obtained an ...

Disputed PLRA Administrative Exhaustion Issues Properly Resolved in Bench Trial

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held on June 18, 2015 that disputed issues of fact regarding exhaustion under the PLRA may be resolved in a bench trial. The appellate court also found the plaintiff had failed to exhaust one of his claims.

Before the Sixth Circuit was the appeal ...

UK Supreme Court Rules Against Unlawful Use of Solitary Confinement

On July 29, 2015, the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled against prison officials in an action brought by prisoners Kamal Bourgass and Tanvir Hussain concerning their prolonged solitary confinement. According to British laws related to solitary, continued confinement after 72 hours must be authorized by the Secretary of State ...

Former U.S. Attorney General’s Legacy: Too Little, Too Late

The U.S. Sentencing Commission’s unanimous vote in April 2014 to reduce sentencing guidelines two levels for certain defendants convicted of nonviolent drug crimes was a major step in cutting the federal prison terms of both the newly-convicted and those currently incarcerated. [See: PLN, Aug. 2014, p.26]. The action ...

News in Brief

Australia: An anal-retentive prisoner in the supermax unit at the Goulburn Jail claimed for 12 days that a metal object detected inside his body was a fragment of a surgical instrument, but his claims were proven false when his bowels finally moved on February 24, 2016 and produced a cell ...