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Prison Legal News: June, 2016

Issue PDF
Volume 27, Number 6

In this issue:

  1. Incarceration, Justice and the Planet: How the Fight Against Toxic Prisons May Shape the Future of Environmentalism (p 1)
  2. U.S. Prisons Filled with America’s Mentally Ill (p 14)
  3. From the Editor (p 16)
  4. $8,000 Settlement for Medical Maltreatment by BOP; Court Finds Experts Not Required (p 16)
  5. Three California Jail Guards Charged in “Fight Club” Case (p 17)
  6. No Place for Old Men (p 18)
  7. Lifesaving Overdose Treatment Slowly Becoming Available to Released Prisoners (p 22)
  8. Music Publishers Sue Companies Providing Mixtapes for Prisoners (p 22)
  9. Louisiana Parish Saddled With Large Jail, Large Costs (p 24)
  10. Disputed PLRA Administrative Exhaustion Issues Properly Resolved in Bench Trial (p 24)
  11. Colombia: At Least 100 Dismembered Bodies Found in Prison Sewers (p 25)
  12. Penal Servitude: A Reminder about the U.S. Constitution’s 13th Amendment Exclusion Clause (p 26)
  13. UK Supreme Court Rules Against Unlawful Use of Solitary Confinement (p 27)
  14. U.S. Supreme Court Holds Prior ACCA Ruling Retroactive (p 28)
  15. U.S. Department of Education Offers Second Chance Pell Pilot Program (p 28)
  16. Advocates Leery of Cell Phones Given to Undocumented Immigrants (p 29)
  17. Company Owes Nevada Prison Industries $428,000 (p 30)
  18. California State Prisoner’s Habeas Case Gets to Supreme Court but Falls Short (p 31)
  19. A Prison Telecom in Sheep’s Clothing (p 32)
  20. Wrongfully Convicted Former Prisoner Commits Suicide (p 32)
  21. Custodial Interrogation of Parolee Requires Miranda Warnings (p 33)
  22. Benefits of Allowing Prisoners to Raise Babies Born in Prison (p 34)
  23. Wrongful Death Suit Against Illinois Jail Survives Summary Judgment (p 34)
  24. Special Supervised Release Conditions Require Sufficient Findings (p 36)
  25. “Scared Straight” Programs are Counterproductive (p 36)
  26. Prisoner’s Deliberate Indifference Suit Over Tooth Abscess Reinstated by Seventh Circuit (p 38)
  27. California’s Broken Death Penalty System (p 38)
  28. Problems with California’s New Medical Prison (p 40)
  29. Newspaper Ban at Cook County Jail Violates First Amendment (p 40)
  30. Mississippi Town Ordered to Abandon “Secured Bail” Arrest Bond System (p 42)
  31. Increasing Number of Jails, Prisons Using Full-body Digital Scanners (p 42)
  32. Troubled North Dakota Jail to be Reviewed by Feds (p 43)
  33. California Federal Court Rules Early Release Program Cannot be Restricted to Women (p 44)
  34. Former Georgia Judge Faces Criminal Charges (p 44)
  35. Study of Incarceration from 1999 to 2014 Shows Modest Decline in Prison Populations (p 45)
  36. Florida: Drug Arrest Costs Former Prison Official Retirement Benefits (p 46)
  37. Female Prisoners in United Kingdom Make Designer Bags (p 46)
  38. New York Court of Claims Awards $1.75 Million to Prisoner’s Estate (p 46)
  39. Washington DOC Ends Marijuana Testing for Parolees (p 47)
  40. Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Finds DOC Violated RLUIPA, Prior Settlement Agreement (p 48)
  41. Former Wisconsin Corrections Secretary Fired (p 48)
  42. Sixth Circuit Rejects Qualified Immunity Defense by Guards in Wrongful Death Suit (p 49)
  43. Exonerees Fulfill Dreams, Help Other Prisoners Overcome Wrongful Convictions (p 50)
  44. Former Pennsylvania Prison Guard and Prisoner Charged with Child Sex Trafficking (p 51)
  45. UK Prisoner Pen Pal Program Relieves Feelings of Isolation (p 52)
  46. Another WA DOC Asbestos Abatement Program Shut Down; Prison Officials Fined (p 52)
  47. Fifth Circuit Holds Texas Prisoner Has Right to Grow “Fist-Length” Beard (p 53)
  48. Tenth Circuit Affirms Murder Conviction Called into Question by New DNA Evidence (p 54)
  49. Crime, Incarceration Rates Decline in New York City (p 54)
  50. Private Prison Firms Reap Large Profits from Immigration Detention (p 56)
  51. Seventh Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Illinois Prisoner’s § 1983 Action (p 56)
  52. Bail Bond Payment Plans Face Scrutiny, Criticism in New Jersey (p 58)
  53. Seventh Circuit Reverses Denial of Former Prison Guard’s Marriage to Prisoner (p 59)
  54. San Bernardino County Jail Named in Federal Lawsuit (p 60)
  55. Illinois Prisoner Wins $125,000 Civil Rights Jury Verdict (p 60)
  56. California: City Council Hears Proposal to Repurpose Empty Prison as Pot Farm (p 61)
  57. Prisoners Protest Solitary Confinement at Illinois Facility (p 62)
  58. News in Brief (p 63)

Incarceration, Justice and the Planet: How the Fight Against Toxic Prisons May Shape the Future of Environmentalism

Prisons inspire little in terms of natural wonder. It might be a weed rises through a crack and blooms for a moment. It might be a prisoner notices. But prisoners, one could assume, must have little concern for the flowers or for otherwise pressing environmental issues. With all the social ...

U.S. Prisons Filled with America’s Mentally Ill

In April 2014, the National Sheriffs’ Association and Treatment Advocacy Center released a comprehensive joint report titled “The Treatment of Persons with Mental Illness in Prisons and Jails: A State Survey.” Authored by both experts in mental illness and law enforcement, the report described U.S. prisons and jails ...

From the Editor

Criminologist Jonathan Simon refers to prisons as human toxic waste dumps where the ruling class dumps its human waste: out of sight and out of mind. Sadly, toxic waste is not just a literary analogy when discussing American prisons and jails. As PLN has reported for several decades, and this ...

$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 ...

Three California Jail Guards Charged in “Fight Club” Case

Scott Neu, the San Francisco deputy identified as the ringleader of a gladiator-style jailhouse “fight club,” was charged with four felony counts of assault under color of authority, four felony counts of making threats, four misdemeanor counts of inhumanity to a prisoner and five misdemeanor counts of inflicting cruel ...

No Place for Old Men

Texas prisons are filling up with the old and the ill — at enormous expense.

by Dick J. Reavis, Texas Observer

Benito Alonzo is a short, 140-pound 80-year-old. His quiet-spoken manner, drooping jowls and gray hair, trimmed in a buzz, give him the appearance of a benevolent grandfather, and indeed, he ...

Lifesaving Overdose Treatment Slowly Becoming Available to Released Prisoners

Statistics show, and experts agree, that the United States is in the midst of an epidemic of opioid abuse. According to the Centers for Disease Control, opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 2000, with 28,648 deaths in 2014 alone attributed to heroin and prescription painkillers.

The numbers are particularly bad ...

Music Publishers Sue Companies Providing Mixtapes for Prisoners

In early 2015, UMG Recordings, Capitol Records, Universal Music Corp. and several other record labels and music producers filed a federal lawsuit against companies that provide mixtapes to prisoners in at least 40 states. The suit claimed that mixtapes contained in “care packages” purchased from the companies by prisoners or ...

Louisiana Parish Saddled With Large Jail, Large Costs

Before he pleaded guilty to taking bribes and illegally spending around $150,000 of his campaign money, resulting in a 46-month federal prison sentence in 2013, former Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana Sheriff Jiff Hingle may have started his parish on a road to financial ruin. The instrument of that potential ruin ...

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 ...

Colombia: At Least 100 Dismembered Bodies Found in Prison Sewers

Special prosecutor Caterina Heyck Puyana announced at a press conference on February 18, 2016 that the Colombian Attorney General’s office was investigating the disappearance of at least 100 people between 1999 and 2001 whose bodies were allegedly dismembered and tossed into the sewers beneath the notorious La Modelo prison in ...

Penal Servitude: A Reminder about the U.S. Constitution’s 13th Amendment Exclusion Clause

by Charles Sullivan and Barbara Koeppel

The U.S. Congress banned slavery in America 150 years ago on December 18, 1865 when the 13th Amendment became the law of the land (after a 250-year run).

But it didn’t, at least not entirely. It added an exclusion clause: Slavery would be ...

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 ...

U.S. Supreme Court Holds Prior ACCA Ruling Retroactive

In a term with relatively few major criminal cases on its docket, the U.S. Supreme Court held that its previous decision in Johnson v. United States will have retroactive application on petitions for collateral review. In Johnson, the Court found the “residual clause” portion of the Armed Career Criminal ...

U.S. Department of Education Offers Second Chance Pell Pilot Program

On July 31, 2015, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) announced a new pilot program that will provide federal funding to colleges to provide classes at select prisons. The Second Chance Pell Pilot Program will help prisoners further their education, and thereby “get jobs, support their families and turn ...

Advocates Leery of Cell Phones Given to Undocumented Immigrants

Immigration rights advocates are suspicious of a new government-funded program administered by GEO Care – a division of the GEO Group, one of the nation’s largest for-profit prison companies – that supplies cell phones to low-risk undocumented immigrants. Officials maintain that the $11 million cell phone program, reported by the ...

Company Owes Nevada Prison Industries $428,000

Nevada’s state-run prison industry program, Silver State Industries, came under attack from citizens and business owners in 2014. One criticism of the program involved the loss of jobs to non-incarcerated workers and fewer jobs available to the unemployed. Another complaint was that select private companies had contracts with the Nevada ...

California State Prisoner’s Habeas Case Gets to Supreme Court but Falls Short

Antonio Hinojosa, serving a 16-year sentence in California’s prison system, was deemed a “validated” gang member by prison officials, effectively stripping him of future good-time credits and extending the length of his sentence. He filed a pro se petition for habeas relief, was denied at the state court level and ...

A Prison Telecom in Sheep’s Clothing

On April 6, 2016, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai conducted a Field Hearing in Columbia, South Carolina on the subject of contraband cell phones in prisons and jails.

The panel did not address questions submitted prior to the hearing by the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the parent organization of Prison ...

Wrongfully Convicted Former Prisoner Commits Suicide

Anti-death penalty advocate Darryl Hunt, who was wrongfully convicted and served almost 20 years in North Carolina prisons before being exonerated in 2004, was found dead on March 13, 2016 in a car near the Wake Forest University campus. Police officials revealed that Hunt had died from a self-inflicted gunshot ...

Custodial Interrogation of Parolee Requires Miranda Warnings

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a parolee subjected to custodial interrogation by parole agents concerning new crimes is entitled to receive Miranda warnings. Under the facts of this case, the court found the parolee’s incriminating statements should be suppressed.

Nathan Cooley III was placed in handcuffs and searched upon ...

Benefits of Allowing Prisoners to Raise Babies Born in Prison

Programs that allow pregnant prisoners to keep their babies and raise them in prison appear to have benefits for both the babies and their mothers.

According to a recent report, two-thirds of the over 200,000 women incarcerated nationwide have children under the age of 18. About 2,000 prisoners ...

Wrongful Death Suit Against Illinois Jail Survives Summary Judgment

Richard J. Gonzalez, 30, was being held at a jail in Ford County, Illinois when his already precarious health took a turn for the worse. On the evening of May 18, 2012, Gonzalez was found on the floor of his cell, apparently suffering from a seizure. He was transported to ...

Special Supervised Release Conditions Require Sufficient Findings

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held on June 19, 2015 that an Iowa federal district court had abused its discretion in imposing a special condition of supervised release related to alcohol use.

Before the appellate court was the appeal of Dennis Brown, Jr., who pleaded guilty to being a ...

“Scared Straight” Programs are Counterproductive

The Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-profit, non-governmental organization, recently reported on the mixed results of “Scared Straight” programs, which are intended to deter juveniles with a history of bad behavior from entering the criminal justice system by having them visit prisons or jails to see first-hand the consequences of breaking ...

Prisoner’s Deliberate Indifference Suit Over Tooth Abscess Reinstated by Seventh Circuit

Lester Dobbey, confined at Illinois’ Stateville Correctional Center in 2011, sought treatment at the prison’s medical unit for severe tooth pain that was later determined to be an abscessed molar. When he arrived for a dental appointment, a guard told him the dentist was not in, his appointment was cancelled ...

California’s Broken Death Penalty System

While California taxpayers have spent over $4 billion on capital punishment since it was reinstated in 1978, more than 900 prisoners have been sentenced to death but only 13 have been executed – an average cost of around $308 million per execution. With 747 prisoners sitting on death row as ...

Problems with California’s New Medical Prison

With construction costs of $840 million and a capacity to provide care to almost 3,000 patients, California’s new medical prison near Stockton is the largest and most expensive in the nation. Unfortunately, that expense has not resulted in a smooth-running operation; instead, waste and mismanagement have occurred as prisoners’ ...

Newspaper Ban at Cook County Jail Violates First Amendment

Although courts give broad latitude to corrections officials to restrict access to materials that might negatively impact institutional security, that latitude does not generally extend to blanket bans on newspapers. On July 6, 2015, a federal district court in Chicago held in a summary judgment order that Cook County Sheriff ...

Mississippi Town Ordered to Abandon “Secured Bail” Arrest Bond System

Chevon E. Thompson, an unemployed, indigent mother of three, was arrested by Moss Point, Mississippi police for shoplifting, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. She was told that if she posted a bond of $3,200 for the three charges she would be released, but if she couldn’t she would remain ...

Increasing Number of Jails, Prisons Using Full-body Digital Scanners

In 2012, the Hamilton County Jail in southwest Ohio was the first jail in the state to purchase a SecurPass full-body digital scanner, using a $243,000 federal grant. Thereafter, prisoners at the facility were subjected to scans in addition to strip searches during intake. Jail officials reported the device ...

Troubled North Dakota Jail to be Reviewed by Feds

The Lake Region Law Enforcement Center (LEC) in North Dakota is a multijurisdictional jail supported by six entities, including the City of Devils Lake and the counties of Benson, Eddy, Nelson, Ramsey and Towner. The center rents office space to the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department, Devils Lake Police Department and ...

California Federal Court Rules Early Release Program Cannot be Restricted to Women

According to a September 8, 2015 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Morrison C. England, Jr., the State of California implemented the Alternative Custody Program (ACP) in 2012 with the goal of reversing the worrisome trend of an increasing female prisoner population. Under the ACP, incarcerated women who qualified ...

Former Georgia Judge Faces Criminal Charges

A Fulton County, Georgia grand jury has indicted a former judge for making false statements and violating her oath of office.

Amanda F. Williams spent 21 years on the bench in the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, eventually ascending to chief judge. While serving in that position she created and oversaw the ...

Study of Incarceration from 1999 to 2014 Shows Modest Decline in Prison Populations

A study by the non-partisan Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project, titled “U.S. Prison Population Trends 1999-2014: Broad Variation Among States in Recent Years,” found there has been an average 2.9% decline in the number of state prisoners over that period of time. During the 15-year period ...

Florida: Drug Arrest Costs Former Prison Official Retirement Benefits

On May 10, 2016, Administrative Law Judge G.W. Chisenhall upheld a decision by the Florida State Board of Administration (Board) to strip retirement benefits from Charles G. Combs, a former major at the Florida State Prison who was arrested for buying Oxycodone from Dylan Hilliard, a guard who worked ...

Female Prisoners in United Kingdom Make Designer Bags

Female prisoners at the HM Prison Bronzefield in Surrey, England are paid around $15 per week to produce designer “dust bags” for high-end purses sold in the most exclusive shops. The prison, operated by for-profit company Sodexo, said the project, called “Stitch in Time,” is coordinated by Blue Sky ...

New York Court of Claims Awards $1.75 Million to Prisoner’s Estate

Scott Degina, a New York state prisoner, sued the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) for damages as a result of negligent treatment of his severe urological problems. He further alleged that due to the negligence of prison medical staff, he suffered for years from undiagnosed urothelial cancer, which ...

Washington DOC Ends Marijuana Testing for Parolees

The Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) announced on June 1, 2014 that it will no longer test parolees for marijuana use – a move that will allow some 14,000 parolees to enjoy recreational marijuana like other citizens in the state.

Recreational marijuana has been legal in Washington since the ...

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Finds DOC Violated RLUIPA, Prior Settlement Agreement

Massachusetts state prisoners Randall Trapp and Robert Ferreira filed an amended complaint in Superior Court that accused the Department of Corrections (DOC) of violating a 2003 settlement agreement guaranteeing proper observance of Native American religious practices under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act (RLUIPA). The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial ...

Former Wisconsin Corrections Secretary Fired

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad D. Schimel confirmed on April 15, 2016 that Ed Wall, the former state corrections secretary who responded to widespread prison violence by equipping prison employees with pepper spray and Tasers [see: PLN, May 2014, p.30], was fired by the state’s Department of Justice over correspondence ...

Sixth Circuit Rejects Qualified Immunity Defense by Guards in Wrongful Death Suit

On August 21, 2015, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an appeal filed by jail officials seeking reversal of a district court’s denial of qualified and statutory immunity in a case involving a prisoner’s death.

Carlton L. Benton was a pre-trial detainee at the Lucas County, Ohio jail in ...

Exonerees Fulfill Dreams, Help Other Prisoners Overcome Wrongful Convictions

by David Reutter and Joe Watson

Former Louisiana death row prisoner John Thompson has spearheaded an organization that aims to help the wrongfully convicted and former prisoners successfully rebuild their lives.

Thompson was sentenced to death for the 1984 fatal shooting of a hotel executive from a prominent New Orleans ...

Former Pennsylvania Prison Guard and Prisoner Charged with Child Sex Trafficking

An unlikely alliance between a prison guard and a former prisoner ended in both being charged with enslaving two teenagers and forcing them into prostitution.

While serving time for a parole violation and drug offense from February 2007 to September 2008, Pennsylvania prisoner Rasul Abernathy, 32, met guard Postauntaramin Walker ...

UK Prisoner Pen Pal Program Relieves Feelings of Isolation

Prison is not a place conducive to maintaining good mental health, whether in the United States or elsewhere. The Ministry of Justice in the United Kingdom has found that depression and suicide are major problems in that nation’s prison system. According to a University of Warwick report, citing a Ministry ...

Another WA DOC Asbestos Abatement Program Shut Down; Prison Officials Fined

The Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) was fined $141,000 after an inspection found code violations that exposed prisoners working in an asbestos abatement program to elevated risks of cancer and lung disease.

Since 1990, the WDOC had trained and certified prisoners in asbestos removal. Those prisoners were then paid ...

Fifth Circuit Holds Texas Prisoner Has Right to Grow “Fist-Length” Beard

Pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Holt v. Hobbs, 135 S.Ct. 853 (2015) [PLN, Aug. 2015, p.50], the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) changed its grooming policy on August 1, 2015. The new policy allows prisoners to grow beards for religious reasons up ...

Tenth Circuit Affirms Murder Conviction Called into Question by New DNA Evidence

In 2005, federal prisoner Mark Jordan was convicted of the June 1999 recreation-yard murder of fellow prisoner David Stone at USP Florence in Florence, Colorado. In 2012, another prisoner who had been present at the time of that murder, Sean Riker, confessed to the stabbing and was linked to the ...

Crime, Incarceration Rates Decline in New York City

Over the past five years the crime rate has steadily declined in New York City. Meanwhile, the city’s incarceration rate has decreased, too.

“New York’s crime rate has gone down more quickly and more steeply than the rest of the country and we are the model for low crime in ...

Private Prison Firms Reap Large Profits from Immigration Detention

Federal immigrant detention has long been a boon to private prison companies Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group, the nation’s two largest private prison firms, both of which trade on the New York Stock Exchange. Much of that success is the direct result of lobbyists employed by ...

Seventh Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Illinois Prisoner’s § 1983 Action

William Nally, incarcerated at the Stateville Correctional Center in Illinois, was given eleven diabetes tests by prison medical staff over a period of five years starting in 2005. Despite the fact that several of those tests showed he was either diabetic or pre-diabetic, he was not advised of the results ...

Bail Bond Payment Plans Face Scrutiny, Criticism in New Jersey

In May 2014, New Jersey’s State Commission of Investigation (SCI) concluded a “broad-based” probe into the state’s bail bond industry for allowing criminal defendants to get out of jail with lower upfront costs and weekly or monthly payment plans, a law enforcement source told the Newark Star-Ledger.

“You have to ...

Seventh Circuit Reverses Denial of Former Prison Guard’s Marriage to Prisoner

Rebecca Riker, a kitchen supervisor at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Indiana, became romantically involved with prisoner Paul Vest, who also worked in the kitchen. When their relationship was exposed, Riker resigned her position and the couple made plans to marry. Prison officials denied their request, Riker filed suit ...

San Bernardino County Jail Named in Federal Lawsuit

On May 7, 2014, six detainees held at the West Valley Detention Center in San Bernardino filed a civil rights complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Their lawsuit alleged that they were repeatedly assaulted with stun guns, had shotguns placed to their heads ...

Illinois Prisoner Wins $125,000 Civil Rights Jury Verdict

Illinois state prisoner Lincoln Lee had a bad feeling about his new cellmate, who was bigger and younger than him, and prone to repeated verbal threats. The Illinois River Correctional Center, like most state prisons, was overcrowded – so requests for cell changes to avoid possible conflicts were typically met ...

California: City Council Hears Proposal to Repurpose Empty Prison as Pot Farm

The Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga houses around 2,300 prisoners and employs about 1,000 area residents, but the local economy was hit hard by the 2011 closure of the smaller, city-owned Claremont Custody Center. In a March 3, 2016 Coalinga City Council meeting, Mayor Ron Ramsey and ...

Prisoners Protest Solitary Confinement at Illinois Facility

More than two dozen prisoners at the Menard Correctional Center in Illinois protested conditions in the prison’s high security unit (HSU) by staging a series of hunger strikes, most of them sustained for weeks.

The protests at the Menard facility, about 60 miles southeast of St. Louis, began on January ...

News in Brief

California: Rafael Rodriguez, Matthew Farris and Jereh Lubrin lost a fierce battle to keep a judge from remanding them to trial on murder charges on March 3, 2016. The Santa Clara County jail guards were accused of beating Michael Tyree, a 31-year-old mentally ill prisoner, to death and attacking a ...