“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 do it for us. It’s our choice.”
With the state’s prison system at around 192% of capacity, lawsuits pending over inadequate medical care and high levels of violence, and federal oversight due to pervasive staff-on-prisoner sexual abuse, Alabama has one of the nation’s most troubled Departments of Corrections. The state’s creation of the Task Force in early 2014 was a measure taken in an effort to avoid a federal court-appointed receiver or monitor over its prison system, as occurred in California.
PLN has been reporting for over two decades on deteriorating and abysmal conditions in Alabama’s correctional facilities. While prison systems in Southern states are typically at the forefront with respect to regressive policies and practices, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has been an outlier with its message of “incarceration means harsh and degrading punishment” – which may as well be its official motto.
Changes in criminal statutes ...
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, attorneys, board members and other supporters. It is thanks to you that we have grown from a 10-page, hand-typed newsletter that focused mainly on Washington state to a national organization that, in addition to publishing a monthly magazine which has expanded to 72 pages, also publishes and distributes books, undertakes extensive litigation regarding the rights of prisoners and publishers, and can carry out and win long-term national advocacy campaigns like our Prison Phone Justice Campaign.
As the years go by it is all too easy to think that the more things change the more they remain the same, except that in the criminal justice context they usually get worse and we rarely see change for the better. Since we began publishing PLN in 1990, Alabama’s prison system has been in a state of perpetual overcrowding and crisis. Just like California and other states, nothing illustrates the political and moral bankruptcy ...
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 may have the most severe problem, with the prison system forced to hire 18-year-olds to fill guard positions even in high-risk units. While Kansas has experienced a drop in unemployment and has an average hourly wage of over $20, newly-hired prison guards earn only about $13.61 per hour, making retention difficult. The staff turnover rate in 2015 was 29.7%, and due to state budget woes the problem won’t be solved any time soon.
“If we don’t have enough staff, and if the staff we have is young and unexperienced, and they are disproportionately overworked because they are understaffed – that combination is a recipe for, if not disaster, then for a serious dangerous incident,” noted state Rep. John Rubin.
Tennessee experienced a similar shortage of prison guards after the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) converted from a 40-hour work week to a 28-day cycle in an attempt ...
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 cash to another individual in an alley in what they said was an illicit drug transaction.
Walker maintained that a video security camera on a building at the site of the alleged drug sale had recorded his confrontation with the arresting officers, Eric Reyes and Sebastian Flatley, and would prove he had committed no crime. Police officials and an investigator with the State’s Attorney’s office, Thomas Finnelly, asserted there was no security camera; based on their statements, the court declined to appoint an investigator to help Walker prove the camera and video footage existed. At trial, prosecutors introduced photos of the alleged crime scene, taken by Finnelly, that were carefully staged to avoid showing the presence of any security camera.
In fact, during closing arguments the prosecutor told the jury, “If there was a camera, do you think this defendant and his brother would be stupid enough to deal drugs ...
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 miles away in the Marion County Jail in Ocala, Florida, and these video visits are her only lifeline to her family and the outside world.
Without communication, Mary Jo says she fears her daughter may suffer a mental breakdown or start a fight, which could lengthen her jail sentence. “Just getting to talk to her and interacting with her can make the difference in her mindset,” Mary Jo says.
Communication, however, is enormously expensive for Mary Jo, a 52-year-old grandmother who lives on $733 monthly disability checks. The video visitations cost $10 per 30-minute visit, or $19.99 per month. Phone calls, meanwhile, cost $3.98 for every 15 minutes, plus a $9.95 fee to load money into an account. Part of the reason the calls are so expensive is because a private company, Securus Technologies, has an exclusive contract to operate the phone and video ...
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 is a current serious threat to institutional safety, women have unique issues that make them more vulnerable to being harmed by solitary than men.
The report used the American Bar Association’s definition of solitary confinement: “housing a prisoner in conditions characterized by substantial isolation from other prisoners, whether pursuant to disciplinary, administrative, or classification action.” Recent data estimates there are between 80,000 and 100,000 prisoners held in solitary confinement in U.S. detention facilities. The effects of solitary on prisoners have been well studied, but its effects specifically on women are less known.
The over 200,000 women in our nation’s prisons and jails face a number of problems unique to their gender. The use of solitary confinement on the mentally ill is recognized by human rights experts and the United Nations as a form of torture; placing mentally ill prisoners in solitary has been shown to ...
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 he displayed obvious signs of pain and mental instability. Some of the pepper spray entered a tracheotomy tube located in a stoma, or hole, in his throat that he had received during an earlier surgical procedure, which he needed to breathe.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento on September 4, 2014, names 13 prison officials, 20 unnamed staff members, Amador County Sheriff/Coroner Martin Ryan and a Stockton, California funeral home, and alleges they acted improperly in the “untimely and avoidable” death of prisoner Joseph Damien Duran. The complaint claims the defendants denied Duran medical care and then, after he died, covered-up the circumstances surrounding his death by falsifying officials records, cremating his remains and failing to notify his next of kin.
Steven and Elaine Duran contend in court pleadings that California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) officials violated their son’s rights under the Eighth ...
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 Troas V. Barnett, who claimed that two guards entered his cell and “attacked him with a flashlight and baton without provocation and followed up with pepper spray and more baton strikes after his submission.” The guards, on the other hand, contended that Barnett initiated an attack on one guard and the other came to his coworker’s aid. Barnett and both guards suffered injuries.
Prior to trial, Barnett filed – and the guards contested – motions for the production of prisoners Phillip Conti, Darrell King and Sven Johnson as witnesses. The magistrate judge, whom the parties agreed would preside over the trial, granted Barnett’s motions, finding each prisoner was a “necessary and material witness.”
In his opening statement, Barnett told the jury that they would hear from the three witnesses. When he called them, however, each either said they “had nothing to add to this matter” or chose “not ...
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 4, 2016 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, the law does not require offenders to notify law enforcement when they move from a SORNA-compliant state to an address outside the United States.
Lester Ray Nichols, a former resident of Kansas, abruptly relocated to the Philippines without advising law enforcement authorities in his former home state. He was charged in Kansas for failure to advise officials of his intention to move overseas. Nichols appealed and the case reached the Supreme Court, where the justices rejected the government’s argument that Nichols was required to register when he planned to relocate from a SORNA jurisdiction to another country.
The federal circuits had split on the issue, so the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, deciding in favor of Nichols. The Court reasoned that when he moved to the Philippines he had eliminated his need for registration unless he returned to the ...
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 ...
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 adequacy of internal reviews of excessive force complaints, “protection of inmates from assault and harm by others,” and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act.
The High Desert facility, located in rural northeast California, has a population of 3,500 high- and medium-security prisoners. Designed to hold 2,300, the prison also has two buildings devoted to those requiring protective custody. The report noted serious, institution-wide deficiencies in internal security procedures as well as a culture of abuse and racism by staff members.
According to the 120-page report there was a “perception of insularity and indifference to inmates,” partially due to the prison’s isolated location but also as a result of “a labor organization that opposes oversight to the point of actively discouraging members from coming forward with information that could adversely affect another officer.”
The report also cited “accounts from both staff and ...
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 triable issue as to whether the prison system’s review process meets minimum due process requirements.
Prisoner Lumumba K. Incumaa is a member of the Nation of Gods and Earth (NOGE), a group whose adherents are also known as “Five Percenters.” Incumaa, who had been serving a life sentence since 1988, participated in a 1995 prison riot with other Five Percenters. Despite not committing a single disciplinary infraction over the next two decades, he remained in solitary confinement.
Under South Carolina Department of Corrections (SC DOC) policy, Incumaa’s status is reviewed every 30 days. To be released from security detention in the Special Management Unit (SMU), he must 1) renounce his affiliation with NOGE, 2) improve his behavior level or 3) the SC DOC has to remove the NOGE from its Security Threat Group list.
Incumaa first argued the renunciation policy imposed a substantial burden on his religious exercise in ...
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 ...
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 population got one day of good-time credit for each day served, while prisoners in disciplinary segregation got one day of good-time credit for each three days served. Then, in January 2010, the legislature changed the law so that prisoners sent to disciplinary segregation based on alleged gang affiliation earned no good-time credit whatsoever.
And the new rule change applied retroactively, covering prisoners who’d been convicted and sentenced under the prior good-time credit regime.
It turns out that’s unconstitutional. So said the Ninth Circuit on September 25, 2015 in a case called Hinojosa v. Davey [803 F.3d 412 (9th Cir. 2015), petition for cert. filed]. The court explained that prior to the 2010 amendments, a potential criminal defendant would know that his sentence exposure was the statutory max term, minus one-to-one credit for time in general population, or three-to-one credit for SHU time. And he had a constitutional right to ...
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 contracts, including policies related to prisoners’ medical care and the telephone contract, from the Marshall County jail. The sheriff refused to produce the records unless Friedmann appeared at the jail in person, which was not required under Tennessee’s public records law. After repeated delays, Friedmann retained counsel and filed suit in chancery court.
At trial the sheriff stated he wouldn’t provide public records to just anyone, and said he drove to the address listed on Friedmann’s driver’s license, couldn’t verify whether Friedmann – who had lived in Tennessee for over 20 years – was a state resident, and reported him to the state Department of Homeland Security. However, his testimony conflicted with the repeated denials Friedmann had received via email from the sheriff’s office.
The chancery court ruled in Friedmann’s favor and ordered production of the records at no cost, but denied reasonable attorney’s fees. [See: PLN, Jan. 2015, p ...
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 ...
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 case stemmed from the grandmother’s attempt to mail a Thanksgiving card and drawing the child had made to his father, who is incarcerated at the Concord State Prison for Men.
The NHDOC’s mail policy was implemented on May 1, 2015 in an attempt to curb the introduction of Suboxone and similar drugs into the facility. The policy prohibits prisoners from receiving greeting cards, picture postcards and drawings, which the suit argues is a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
“With this sweeping policy, the state has eliminated one of the few ways young children can communicate with parents who are in prison,” said Gilles Bissonnette, Legal Director of the state ACLU chapter. “This is not only cruel, but also counterproductive for New Hampshire’s over 2,300 prisoners and their families waiting for them to come home. Maintaining family bonds is critical for prisoners ...
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 such.
Jason Michael Holden, incarcerated at Sheridan, had tried and failed to have Humanism recognized by the chaplain or case manager at the facility as a religion deserving of the privileges accorded other religions by the BOP, so he was left with no alternative but to file suit in federal court. After months of litigation, the parties entered into a settlement that recognizes Humanism as a religious group within BOP facilities.
In a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action brought under the First and Fifth Amendments, and Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), Holden argued that “The Defendants’ policy and practice of discriminating against non-theistic inmates and Humanist inmates in particular, because of their religious beliefs, violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, as well as the Equal Protection mandate of the Fifth ...
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 Hubbs appealed. His complaint alleged that he was severely beaten by Suffolk County sheriff’s deputies on November 10, 2009.
Hubbs was in a court holding cell after a jury trial ended in his conviction, awaiting transfer to the Suffolk County Correctional Facility (SCCF). While there he struck up a conversation with Anthony Oddone, a detainee accused of murdering an off-duty Suffolk County guard.
Oddone offered Hubbs encouraging words after learning he had been convicted, and Hubbs responded, “I wish you the best.” That brief interaction did not sit well with several deputies, who dragged Hubbs to another cell and beat him for expressing sympathy to Oddone.
Another detainee, Natalie Desire, submitted an affidavit stating she saw Hubbs being dragged to the cell as the deputies said they would “show you how to keep your fucking mouth shut,” and referring to Oddone, added “he killed one of ours.” ...
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 been the subject of such an erasure shall be deemed to have never been arrested.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-142a(e)(3).
On August 20, 2010, Lorraine Martin and her two sons were arrested during a drug raid at her home. Several newspapers reported on the arrest and Martin conceded those reports were factually accurate when published.
In January 2012, the state voluntarily dismissed the charges against Martin and her arrest records were erased pursuant to § 54-142a(e)(3).
She then asked the newspapers to remove the articles concerning her arrest from their respective websites. She argued that once the erasure occurred, it became false and defamatory to report on her arrest because, by operation of the Erasure Statute, she was deemed to have never been arrested.
The newspapers refused and Martin filed suit. The federal district court granted summary judgment to the papers, holding that the erasure ...
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: PLN, Dec. 2013, p.1; April 2011, p.1].
The FCC voted to cap debit and prepaid prison phone calls at $.11/min., and collect calls at $.14/min. (to be phased down to $.11/min. over a two-year period). Prepaid and debit phone calls at jails were capped on a scale based on facility size, ranging from $.14/min. to $.22/min., while collect calls at jails were capped at $.49/min. (to phase down to lower rates over a two-year period). The rate caps for calls from federal and state prison systems were to become effective March 17, 2016, while the caps on jail calls were scheduled to go into effect June 20, 2016.
Pursuant to the FCC’s order, all connection fees for prison and jail phone calls were prohibited (e.g., for rates such as $1.50 to connect plus $.20/minute, the $1.50 fee was ...
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 period at the Halawa Correctional Facility (HCF) and Oahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC) indicated failures in institutional policies and practices.
“In the past 15 years ... we have never heard of this in Hawaii prisons,” said Kat Brady, who coordinates the Community Alliance on Prisons. “So it is deeply, deeply concerning.”
The first in the series of deaths that occurred between March and May 2013 was a murder. OCCC prisoner Cyril Chung, 76, died of blunt force trauma to the head on March 9. His cellmate, Joseph Tui, had a history of paranoid delusions and schizophrenia; officials said Tui should never have been housed with Chung. In March 2016, Tui was found guilty of reckless manslaughter. He faces up to 20 years in prison for the death of his cellmate and another five years for second-degree assault of a hospital worker.
On April 8, 2013, Darius Puni-Mau hanged himself ...
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 Lynn Hankins was convicted of battery in Arkansas and eventually placed on parole for three years. She moved to Illinois, at which point, pursuant to the Interstate Compact for Adult Offender Supervision, the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) became responsible for her parole. The DOC assigned her case to parole officer Tom Lowe.
Hankins reportedly asked Lowe when her parole would expire, and he responded that Arkansas would determine the date. He also ordered her not to contact Arkansas officials to request that information. In February 2011, Lowe told Hankins that her parole had expired. She later filed suit in federal court, alleging that he had intentionally kept her on parole beyond her parole termination date in January 2010.
The district court dismissed the case for failure to plead facts necessary to state a claim. Essentially, it found that Hankins never disputed Lowe’s assertion that Arkansas determined when she should ...
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, and that his practices were so well known at Sussex Correctional Institution (SCI) that other employees referred to him as “Dr. Feelgood” and “the finger.”
McDonald is alleged to have performed unnecessary rectal exams, often without gloves, and “repeatedly touched, fondled, and digitally penetrated inmates ... for no legitimate medical reason.” One prisoner alleged he was fondled when he sought medical care for a rash on his face. Another prisoner said that Dr. McDonald made him say “thank you, doctor” after McDonald performed rectal exams on him. Another prisoner claimed McDonald stuck a needle in his groin for no apparent medical purpose.
The lawsuit states that prison officials ignored repeated complaints about McDonald’s misconduct and defended him against such allegations, retaliating against prisoners who complained. According to the suit, “Inmates complaining about the sexual abuse were often harassed, ridiculed or abused.”
Stephen Hampton, the attorney representing the prisoners ...
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 in government-run prisons.
The reduction in the state’s prison population has been surprising. In June 2015, Idaho had a total prison and jail population of 8,200 prisoners. Eight months later the state had 7,800 – an almost 5% decrease. The reduction was due to several factors, including changes in prison policies concerning parole and access to recidivism reduction programs.
According to Kempf, “Inmates are coming before the parole board prepared for parole.” This has enabled the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole to increase its rate of granting parole, according to the Commission’s executive director, Sandy Jones.
“[O]ur releases to parole in the last year literally have doubled,” she said.
Such factors have had a profound impact on the IDOC and the state, enabling the IDOC to return $1.2 million to the state’s general fund and leading Governor Butch Otter to reduce the ...
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 1998 and 2000 for meeting constitutional standards of medical treatment by the Institute for Medical Quality, an organization that examines healthcare in California prisons and jails. Citing budgetary issues, FCJ did not seek the voluntary accreditation after 2002.
Oversight of FCJ’s psychiatric services was within the jurisdiction of the Fresno County Behavioral Health Department, but faced with a $16 million budget deficit at the end of 2005, that task was handed off to the Department of Health.
The county’s health department was better equipped to administer flu shots, inspect restaurants, and operate clinics for sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis. Dr. Edward Moreno, the county’s health officer, warned county supervisors that “There would be instances when some inmates would not be seen at all.”
Faced with his own budget shortfalls, Moreno obtained approval to make his statement self-fulfilling. To save $768,231, the Board of Supervisors approved the elimination of ...
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 for criminal activity.
The program, called the Neighborhood Restoration Initiative, was the brainchild of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, who said he came up with the idea after driving past an abandoned house in suburban Chicago that had been gutted by fire and had a tree growing through it. The vacant home was one of only two residences on the block; owners of the other property were meticulous about keeping their house attractive, mowing the lawn regularly and tending their flower bed.
“How is it that these poor people have to live next to that, and no one cares, no one is doing anything about it?” said Dart. “I kept saying to myself, this is so wrong.”
Only prisoners who are sentenced to the Sheriff’s Office’s one-year boot camp, typically non-violent offenders who have had more than one run-in with the law, and who are near the end ...
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 prisoners who were either released outright from federal prisons or placed on probation in 2005, the 60-page report found almost half (49.3%) had, within the next eight years, been arrested again, whether for a new offense or for violating conditions of their parole (supervised release). Among the offenders released or paroled in 2005, during the same period nearly a third (31.7%) had been re-convicted, with 24.7% of them also re-incarcerated.
Re-arrest rates were higher (52.5%) for ex-prisoners who had been released than for those who were on probation (35.1%). The research also showed that re-offenses typically occurred fairly quickly, generally within the first two years after release or parole (the average interval was about 21 months).
The variables with the strongest correlation to the likelihood of a future offense turned out to be a prisoner’s age at the time of release or probation and previous ...
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 for failure to state a claim. On appeal, the parties agreed that “Staggs had serious medical needs in the form of Hepatitis C, cirrhosis of the liver, and complications from undiagnosed liver cancer, among other ailments.”
The only issue was whether the defendants, despite their awareness of Staggs’ condition, were deliberately indifferent in denying medical treatment or in providing medically unacceptable care.
“Plaintiffs have alleged that prison doctors continued to recommend and eventually arranged a three-pass core liver biopsy even after two hospitals refused to perform the procedure under any circumstances because of an elevated risk of internal bleeding,” the Ninth Circuit wrote in its June 26, 2015 decision. “That fact, accepted as true, plausibly suggests that the decision to order the biopsy was ‘medically unacceptable under the circumstances.’”
That finding supported the estate’s claim that prison doctors consciously disregarded a substantial risk of serious harm to ...
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 two years ago.
President Obama denied the vast majority of clemency petitions under the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) old review system. In April 2014 the DOJ announced significant changes in the Office of the Pardon Attorney, which processes pardon and commutation applications. The former head of the pardon office, Ronald L. Rogers, who previously served as a prosecutor, had been criticized for the dearth of pardons and for withholding important information in a high-profile clemency case.
Then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new emphasis on pardons, and said future clemency decisions would focus on the application of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2011. He noted that the limited retroactivity offered under the Fair Sentencing Act meant that many federal prisoners were still unfairly confined based solely upon the year they were convicted rather than any other factor.
The pardon and commutation process is exclusively granted to the president ...
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 current law, which previously allowed for the expungement of crimes committed by those under age 18. After Governor Rick Snyder signed the legislation on January 12, 2015, offenders of all ages can now ask a judge to expunge their record five years after completing their sentence, including any term of parole or probation.
While the bill was being heard, many people testified about the difficulties they experienced in finding employment due to having a felony record, even if it was minor or decades old. It was that issue that Governor Snyder addressed when signing the legislation into law.
“We don’t want to have situations where responsible adults are being held back from holding good jobs and being productive citizens because they can’t pass a criminal background check during the hiring process due to offenses committed in their youth,” he said. “This legislation gives judges the ability to consider whether ...
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 ...
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 ...
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.W.”
According to a lawsuit filed on January 17, 2016 by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Florida Institutional Legal Services, a project of Florida Legal Services, Sumter Correctional Institution guard Bruce A. Kiser, Jr. stood by and watched while at least six youths beat and sexually assaulted R.W. in a bathroom in F Dorm as part of a prison initiation rite called a “test of heart.” R.W. was cut repeatedly with sharpened pieces of barbed wire, choked unconscious and raped with a broomstick on July 24, 2013. Kiser never reported the incident.
“R.W. suffered a nightmare at Sumter,” said SPLC attorney Miriam Haskell. “Unfortunately, his experience is not unique. A culture of brutality persists within the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC), and what R.W. endured is just another example of why children do not belong in the adult prison system.” ...
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 leader who retired in May 2014, according to a state audit.
The financial study was released on July 1, 2015 as an addendum to a previous audit that found $650,000 worth of improper spending for payroll and vacation costs for former employees at levels well above the benefits received by 21,000 other Iowa state employees.
“These disbursements had a significant financial impact on the district over several years,” concluded state auditor Mary Mosiman, referring to the million-plus misspent dollars identified in the addendum. She also found the state could have saved another $285,000 if a different program other than the one operated by the Community Corrections Improvement Association (CCIA) had been selected to provide services.
The 6th Judicial District is one of eight in the Iowa Department of Correctional Services that oversee the state’s pretrial release, pre-sentence investigation, probation, parole and work release programs. Along with ...
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 was barred from possessing such disks due to his prior sex-related offense. His post-release address was later searched, and he was found in possession of the disk and cited for a parole violation.
After being returned to prison for the violation and again released, then held in a civil commitment center, Childress filed a pro se action in federal court. Following the district court’s review of his complaint under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the case was dismissed. Upon reconsidering the decision and noting that Childress was no longer considered a prisoner for PLRA purposes, the court still found that as an in forma pauperis filing the complaint could be dismissed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).
According to the Seventh Circuit, Childress alleged that the prison’s customary “practice of placing computer disks in inmates’ property subjected him ...
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 prisoner Alden Loper, 61, who suffered from heart problems, diabetes and high blood pressure according to his attorney, Raymond M. DiGuiseppe. Loper was eventually released on Post Release Community Supervision (PRCS) on June 24, 2015.
He was originally sentenced in February 2011 to six years in prison after pleading guilty to felony charges stemming from underpayment of more than $100,000 in taxes and worker’s compensation premiums for his tree trimming business. But in May 2012, doctors at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility issued an internal request for Loper to be granted compassionate release.
According to that request, Loper suffered from “uncontrolled hypertension, advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and severe coronary artery disease.” Although he was able to live normally, the doctors said his “life expectancy is short and possibly less than 6 months,” and he was “at increased risk of sudden cardiac death” with his ...
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 ...
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 politics still rule the privatization issue while cost savings have proven elusive.
State lawmakers initially created the Correctional Privatization Commission (CPC) to push an initiative that the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) was reluctant to pursue: privatizing prisons. The CPC helped craft Florida’s 1993 statute that established the parameters for privatization.
Consulting for the CPC was Charles Thomas, a University of Florida criminology professor who was nationally known to specialize in prison issues. He contributed significantly to developing the law’s provisions. “I certainly had a fairly heavy hand in it,” he said.
He also had a heavy hand in the coffers of Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest for-profit prison firm. At the same time he was consulting for the CPC, Thomas owned private prison stock and secured a $3 million fee from CCA in connection with Prison Realty Trust, a CCA spin-off company. While Florida’s Ethics ...
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 ...
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 violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Delaware attorneys, then refers them to the state Supreme Court for final determinations. In this case, the Board recommended a public reprimand but the Supreme Court disagreed, instead suspending Favata and requiring him to “establish his rehabilitation before he can be re-admitted to practice law....”
The misconduct stemming from McCoy v. State consisted of seven rule violations, including Rule 3.3(a)(1) (knowingly making a false statement of fact to a tribunal); Rule 3.4(e) (stating a personal opinion as to the credibility of a witness and/or the guilt of an accused); Rule 3.5(d) (engaging in conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal and/or in undignified and discourteous conduct that was degrading to the tribunal); and Rule 8.4(c) (engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, deceit or misrepresentation). He was also found guilty of three counts ...
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, juvenile camps and overall contracting procedures, which indicated that improvements needed to be made.
Part of Los Angeles County’s budget problems stem from the fact that the county must make up any revenue shortfall if sufficient funds are not available from previously-budgeted revenue sources. According to the audit, “$10.2 million [was] expended from the County General Fund during Fiscal Years 2012-13 and 2013-14” for various programs mandated by the state legislature that the county’s Probation Department was unable to collect from other sources. The audit suggested that the department “determine the feasibility of recovering such expenditures from the County’s Community Corrections Performance Incentives Special Revenue Fund.”
Another area that indicated improvements were required was the tracking of expenditures by various subdivisions within the Probation Department, implying that accurate reporting of expenditures may be deficient.
Additionally, there was a large discrepancy between the cost per juvenile offender held ...
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 Medicaid rule will likely result in further savings to the states, by allowing low-income prisoners and jail detainees to be enrolled for Medicaid benefits immediately upon their release.
Under the ACA, many prisoners are now eligible for medical coverage through Medicaid. Their eligibility comes after a January 1, 2014 activation date that now allows single, childless adults whose income is up to 138% of the federal poverty level, or $16,394 for a single adult in 2016, to participate in the program. More than half the states and the District of Columbia have agreed to the voluntary Medicaid expansion. Previously, Medicaid mainly applied to pregnant women, people with children, the blind, disabled and elderly; the program provides federal funds to the states, subject to substantial regulation.
Those regulations generally include a prohibition on Medicaid for state or local prisoners. However, the rules allow the use of Medicaid funds to pay ...
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 of Larry Lee, who filed a civil rights complaint after his release from a Michigan prison. “Lee, a homosexual man described as having effeminate mannerisms,” alleged a variety of claims against a number of prison officials that occurred from March 23, 2007 to May 9, 2007 at the Charles Egeler Reception and Guidance Center.
The complaint claimed, in part, that several guards harassed Lee about being homosexual and/or made comments in front of other prisoners encouraging sexual advances. Lee alleged three guards refused to act when he sought protection from prisoners pursuing him for sex; he further stated that he had complained to several mental health professionals, including Dr. Kameshwari Mehra, a part-time psychiatrist.
Lee said two unidentified prisoners raped him in his cell on April 9, 2007, when he decided to forgo dinner. Following the sexual assault, Lee allegedly requested to see a mental health professional. He ...
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 ...
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 for Justice, not by prison staff. The rationale is that prison officials reviewing other prison officials’ actions does not constitute a meaningful review – though that is the standard practice in the U.S.
Bourgass, incarcerated at the high-security HM Prison Whitemoor, was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a police officer, attempted murder of two other officers and the wounding of a third, plus an additional 17-year sentence for being part of a terrorist conspiracy. Hussain, incarcerated at HM Prison Frankland, was also serving a life sentence for his role in a 2006 terrorist airline bomb plot. Both were held in solitary confinement, in violation of the 72-hour external review rule, for more than six months due to allegedly being involved in assaults and bullying other prisoners. Most of those allegations had since been disproved, or formal charges filed by prison and law enforcement officials were ...
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 was hailed by the ACLU’s then-senior legislative counsel Jesslyn McCurdy.
“[O]ur country is slowly but steadily reversing the damage done by the failed, racially biased war on drugs,” she said. “Our criminal justice system is smarter, fairer, and more humane than it was a year ago, and we need to make sure momentum continues in the right direction.”
Former U.S. Attorney General (AG) Eric Holder wasted little time in ordering the guidelines change into effect. In a memo to U.S. prosecutors around the country, Holder called for the immediate implementation of the two-level sentencing reduction for drug offenders, even prior to its effective date in November 2015.
Holder was riding a public wave of pro-reform sentiment that indicated 63% of Americans agree it is time to move away from mandatory minimum sentencing, and 67% say the state and federal governments should focus on treatment ...
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 phone. Constantine “Kon” Georgiou, serving time for a triple murder, had a history of circumventing prison rules and at one point had maintained an active Facebook page using a contraband phone. He was placed in an isolation cell immediately after his productive bowel movement.
California: Nooshafarin Ravaghi, an English teacher at the Central Men’s Jail in Santa Ana, was arrested for her suspected role in helping three prisoners cut through steel bars, crawl through a plumbing tunnel and lower themselves down four stories using bed sheets to escape on January 22, 2016. Hossein Nayeri, 37, Jonathan Tieu, 20, and Bac Duong, 43, then kidnapped a taxi driver and fled to San Jose, according to Orange County Sheriff’s Department Captain Jeff Hallock. After a week on the run, Duong freed the taxi driver and turned himself in. Nayeri and Tieu were captured on January 30, 2016. All three face felony escape ...