Skip navigation

Prison Legal News: June, 2016

View as PDF
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. Music Publishers Sue Companies Providing Mixtapes for Prisoners (p 22)
  8. Lifesaving Overdose Treatment Slowly Becoming Available to Released 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. Wrongfully Convicted Former Prisoner Commits Suicide (p 32)
  20. A Prison Telecom in Sheep’s Clothing (p 32)
  21. Custodial Interrogation of Parolee Requires Miranda Warnings (p 33)
  22. Wrongful Death Suit Against Illinois Jail Survives Summary Judgment (p 34)
  23. Benefits of Allowing Prisoners to Raise Babies Born in Prison (p 34)
  24. “Scared Straight” Programs are Counterproductive (p 36)
  25. Special Supervised Release Conditions Require Sufficient Findings (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. Newspaper Ban at Cook County Jail Violates First Amendment (p 40)
  29. Problems with California’s New Medical Prison (p 40)
  30. Increasing Number of Jails, Prisons Using Full-body Digital Scanners (p 42)
  31. Mississippi Town Ordered to Abandon “Secured Bail” Arrest Bond System (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. Female Prisoners in United Kingdom Make Designer Bags (p 46)
  37. New York Court of Claims Awards $1.75 Million to Prisoner’s Estate (p 46)
  38. Florida: Drug Arrest Costs Former Prison Official Retirement Benefits (p 46)
  39. Washington DOC Ends Marijuana Testing for Parolees (p 47)
  40. Former Wisconsin Corrections Secretary Fired (p 48)
  41. Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Finds DOC Violated RLUIPA, Prior Settlement Agreement (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. Another WA DOC Asbestos Abatement Program Shut Down; Prison Officials Fined (p 52)
  46. UK Prisoner Pen Pal Program Relieves Feelings of Isolation (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. Seventh Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Illinois Prisoner’s § 1983 Action (p 56)
  51. Private Prison Firms Reap Large Profits from Immigration Detention (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. Illinois Prisoner Wins $125,000 Civil Rights Jury Verdict (p 60)
  55. San Bernardino County Jail Named in Federal Lawsuit (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 quandaries present in their lives – walls of solitude, the loss of basic human rights – pollution, climate change and healthy ecosystems must seem so distantly important: an issue for the free. In actuality, prisoners are on the frontlines of the environmental movement, one which intersects with social justice.

Prisoner Jonathan Jones-Thomas found himself unexpectedly in the middle of a scandal exposing massive sewage spills into Washington State’s Skykomish River by the Monroe Correctional Complex. Prisoner Bryant Arroyo ended up rallying hundreds of prisoners to join environmental groups on the outside in fighting plans for a coal gasification plant next to where he was confined. Prisoner Robert Gamez chose to speak out in the midst of an unfolding environmental justice disaster in the Arizona desert, where military Superfund sites and proposed toxic copper mine waste injections ringed the solitary confinement cell he was forced to call home.

And they weren’t ...

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 as the “new asylums,” housing ten times more mentally ill people than psychiatric hospitals.

The study reflects the realization of law enforcement officials closest to the problem that they are inadequately funded and staffed to provide mental health treatment to prisoners who are often incarcerated as a result of aberrant behavior stemming directly from their mental illnesses. For example, the report notes that the “Cook County Jail, with 9,700 inmates, [is] the largest de facto ‘mental institution’ in Illinois and one of the largest in the United states.”

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has criticized Illinois’ closure of mental health institutions that might treat and house many of those prisoners, stating, “I can’t conceive of anything more ridiculously stupid by government than to do what we’re doing right now.” Dart threatened to sue the state for “allowing the [county] jail to essentially become a dumping ground ...

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 month’s cover story documents at length, many prisons and jails are built on toxic waste dumps, landfills and former mining sites, which negatively impact the health of prisoners and staff alike.

The government agencies charged with enforcing the nation’s environmental laws, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and state equivalents, all too often ignore massive environmental violations because it is the very same government causing and perpetuating the problem. Environmentalists are all too often willing to accept toxic waste and feces in drinking water as long as it is the government putting it there and not a corporation, or when prisoners are the primary victims.

One of the goals of the Human Rights Defense Center’s Prison Ecology Project (PEP) is to raise awareness around the negative impacts that mass incarceration has on the environment, and to urge the respective government agencies to enforce the laws they were created and are ...

$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 and unusual punishment on March 1, 2016.

Two other deputies, Eugene Jones and Clifford Chiba, were also charged for their roles in the prisoner fight ring. Both Jones and Chiba face two misdemeanor counts of inflicting cruel and unusual punishment and one misdemeanor count of breaching their official duties. Jones faces two additional felony counts of assault under color of authority. Neu, who was previously accused in a 2006 lawsuit of sexually assaulting three prisoners, was fired in April 2015.

District Attorney George Gascón laid out the findings of a year-long investigation in a joint news conference with the FBI. He said that for months, Neu forced prisoners to gamble for food, bedding and other essentials, then told his chosen “gladiators” that they would be handcuffed, maced, beaten or shocked with a stun gun if they refused to fight for his entertainment. Gascón said two prisoners, Ricardo P. Garcia and ...

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 is a grandfather. In thick-framed black eyeglasses, he bears a resemblance to the defanged and aging Henry Kissinger. But Alonzo is neither a celebrity nor a statesman. He’s a convict who has lately grown infirm.

He says he’s been diagnosed with prostate cancer and he’s afflicted with hepatitis C. For several years he’s been prescribed a drug called Lactulose, which Dr. Owen Murray, chief of medical affairs for the Texas penal system, says “we use for people whose livers are at the end of their lives.” In November 2015, the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston told Alonzo’s son in a letter that during a recent medical examination, it also found “evidence of cirrhosis,” an often-fatal ailment.

I talked to Alonzo in December in the waiting room of the Polunsky Unit, near Livingston. That was not the way I wanted to see him: I had wanted to ...

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 their families resulted in copyright infringement.

As defined by the music producers, “Mixtapes are a form of recorded music in which DJs combine (or ‘mix’) tracks, often recorded by different artists, onto a single CD, sometimes creating overlaps and fades between songs, and/or reflecting a common theme or mood.” The plaintiffs alleged that mixtapes are “frequently a cover for piracy” unless authorized by the copyright holder, and that the companies did not have authorization.

The defendants in the case included the Centric Group, the Keefe Group, Keefe Commissary Network, Access Catalog Company, Access Securepak and Ari’s Mixtapes.

The music producers argued that the companies used mixtapes as “door openers” to promote the sale of other items from their catalogs, and sometimes even sold them at a financial loss; i.e., as “loss leaders.” The mixtapes included such legendary artists as James Brown, The Jackson Five, Eminem, Marvin ...

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 for former prisoners. Research in Washington State indicates that prisoners are 13 times more likely to die of an overdose in the first two weeks following their release from custody than non-former prisoners. Other studies have resulted in similar findings – that prisoners are at increased risk of dying, particularly within the first two weeks after their release, due to drug overdoses.

This may be due in part because prisoners have lost their built-up tolerance for drugs while incarcerated, and thus risk overdosing if they relapse and try to use the same amount they were using before. Additionally, released prisoners may not be aware that the potency of the drugs they were using previously has increased; for example, heroin may be cut with fentanyl, a much stronger synthetic opiate. Fentanyl has been responsible for an increasing number of overdose deaths – 62 in Los Angeles County alone in 2014.

Enter ...

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 is a huge new jail built in Pointe à la Hache at the southern end of the parish peninsula. The facility is near the site of the old jail that was destroyed when Hurricane Katrina came ashore nearby.

“Anybody that comes down there and looks at it says ‘why is it being built down there?’” said Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser.

One problem with the new jail is its location, which is well outside the levee protection system. The facility was built using FEMA money with a budget that ballooned to $125 million during planning and construction. That $125 million bought a very modern jail with an 871-bed capacity – enough to lock up a sizeable portion of the parish’s population.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me that you would build an 871-bed jail in a parish with a population of 23,000,” said Katie Schwartzmann with ...

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 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 ...

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 Bogota. “The victims were inmates, visitors and people who had nothing to do with the prison,” said Heyck Puyana. “Their remains were thrown into the drain pipes of the sewer system.”

Colombian prisons are among the most overcrowded and violent in Latin America. Much of the violence is linked to the practice of housing leftist guerrillas alongside their right-wing paramilitary enemies in close quarters. Although the investigation centers on the La Modelo facility, Heyck Puyana said the grisly practice is also suspected to have occurred at prisons in other cities such as Popayan, Bucaramanga and Barranquilla. Officials admitted they may never be able to determine the identities of all the victims.

The disappearances at La Modelo were first exposed by journalist Jineth Bedoya, who was investigating killings, missing persons, weapons trafficking and corruption at the prison in May 2000, when she was kidnapped and raped. “I’m grateful for ...

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 allowed as punishment for a crime.

To reaffirm the penal servitude, Virginia’s Supreme Court declared prisoners “slaves of the state” in 1872.

Thus, prisoners have few legal rights. Theoretically, they can appeal sentences, enjoy limited free speech through the First Amendment and get limited medical care through the Eighth Amendment. All are violated daily.

Except for two states (Maine and Vermont), prisoners cannot vote while incarcerated. In two states (Kentucky and Virginia), they cannot vote even after being released from prison, despite having paid their “debt to society.” Nor can they organize, support families, get their children health benefits or contribute to social security, all job-related benefits.

Most important, they can’t refuse to work, choose jobs or negotiate wages. As the U.S. Department of Justice, federal Bureau of Prisons’ 2008 program states, “Sentenced inmates physically and mentally able to work are required to participate in the work program ...

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 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 ...

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 Act (ACCA) unconstitutionally vague. [See: PLN, Aug. 2015, p.30].

According to the Supreme Court, “Gregory Welch is one of the many offenders sentenced under the Armed Career Criminal Act before Johnson was decided. Welch pleaded guilty in 2010 to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.... [he] had three prior violent felony convictions, including a Florida conviction for a February 1996 ‘strong-arm robbery.’”

Welch had argued that the Florida conviction did not constitute a violent felony and therefore should not be counted against him in determining whether he should be sentenced under the ACCA. The federal district court disagreed and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed. Welch then filed a pro se habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, alleging the Florida strong-arm robbery statute was vague and his attorney had rendered ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to object to his ACCA sentence ...

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 their lives around” once they are released.

The program permits colleges and universities to submit proposals to the DOE for the 2016-2017 academic year. Once the proposals are selected and in operation, eligibility will be restricted to prisoners who meet Title IX requirements and have release dates within the next five years. The program, slated for commencement as soon as Fall 2016, does not include prisoners held in civil commitment facilities due to sex offenses.

The pilot program is authorized by the Higher Education Act of 1965, which created the federal financial aid system currently used by the United States. While the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act prohibited state and federal prisoners from receiving federal financial aid – specifically Pell grants – and effectively gutted postsecondary education programs for prisoners, the Higher Education Act still allows the DOE to create “experimental” sites. The Second Chance Pell Pilot ...

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 Los Angeles Times in February 2016, helps ensure the recipients can keep in touch with their case managers and make scheduled immigration court hearings.

Those receiving the phones, which are provided at no cost, are generally families with children for whom there are few suitable facilities for detention. Approximately 25,000 immigrant families were apprehended at the southern border of the United States from October 1, 2015 through January 31, 2016 – nearly three times the number during the same period the previous year.

However, Jonathan Ryan, executive director of RAICES, a Texas immigrant advocacy group, was skeptical. “It is concerning whether the women are being tracked through their phones and whether their communications with counsel are confidential.... Considering the number of entities monitoring cell phones in general, it’s hard to believe they’re not being tracked at all,” he stated.

GEO Group, along with Corrections Corporation of America (CCA ...

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 Department of Corrections (NDOC) that provided reduced lease rates on manufacturing space and allowed the use of prisoners as a low-paid workforce. Competitors of those companies protested that this amounted to the state subsidizing private businesses and giving them an unfair advantage. [See: PLN, March 2013, p.14].

The discovery that NDOC authorities had in effect subsidized private businesses, allowing for direct competition against other companies, raised eyebrows in the media and attracted the attention of organized labor leaders, state lawmakers and eventually Governor Brian Sandoval. Labor officials, legislators and the governor all voiced concerns over the displacement of Nevada workers by prisoners, and were critical of the way in which the NDOC was operating prison industry programs with inadequate oversight.

The result was several hearings in the Nevada Assembly and Senate. During those committee meetings and hearings it was discovered that one of the private companies contracting with the ...

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 took his case to federal district court and eventually to the Ninth Circuit, which ruled in his favor.

Ultimately, however, in May 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court found against Hinojosa on a procedural issue in a per curiam decision that was criticized by many observers.

According to the Court, “The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) requires a state prisoner seeking federal habeas relief first to ‘exhaus[t] the remedies available in the courts of the State.’ 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A). If the state courts adjudicate the prisoner’s federal claim ‘on the merits...,’ then AEDPA mandates deferential, rather than de novo, review,” effectively preventing federal courts from exercising jurisdiction in most cases. The Ninth Circuit had determined that the state courts’ denial of Hinojosa’s habeas petition was not “on the merits.”

The Court of Appeals wrote, “In ...

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 wound; he was 51 years old and had recently been diagnosed with cancer.

In June 1985, a single juror refused to vote to sentence Hunt to death for a rape and murder that he did not, in fact, commit. He instead received a life sentence based on an arrest, trial and conviction that were not only highly racially-charged, but also flawed by eyewitness misidentification, false testimony of jailhouse informants and a witness who later recanted. Hunt’s conviction was overturned on appeal in 1989, but he refused a deal to plead guilty to murder and accept a sentence of time served. Maintaining his innocence, Hunt was retried and again sentenced to life.

In 1994, advanced DNA testing revealed that biological evidence recovered from the victim’s body did not match Hunt. Still, prosecutors argued there may have been multiple assailants and Hunt could have killed the victim, Deborah Sykes. A judge agreed ...

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 Legal News. Those questions dealt with the companies involved in the development of new technologies to detect contraband cell phones – including Inmate Calling Service (ICS) providers that have price-gouged prisoners and their families for decades with exorbitant phone rates and fees.

HRDC had inquired about the cost/benefit of cell phone detection services, and whether the cost for cell phone detection is passed on to prisoners and their families through inflated ICS phone rates. In the latter regard, HRDC inquired, “To what extent is the effort to eliminate cell phone use by prisoners a ploy to increase revenues through the government monopoly ICS phone system and its attendant commission kickbacks to government agencies?”

Additional questions raised by HRDC involved the smuggling of contraband cell phones by prison and jail staff, and whether proposed jamming technologies would affect people located near the correctional facilities where they are implemented.

“While ...

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 reporting to the parole office. His parole agent had received a voicemail from the father of Cooley’s fiancée, stating that Cooley possessed and was discharging firearms and may be selling drugs at his home.

After a pat down search uncovered nothing, parole agents informed Cooley they were going to search his home for firearms and drugs. Cooley became nervous and admitted he had a firearm at the house and indicated its location. The firearm was found as was $3,200, a pound of marijuana and plastic baggies. Cooley admitted the drugs were his. Back at the parole office, another firearm was recovered from his car.

Cooley was never issued Miranda warnings and was subsequently charged with firearm and drug offenses. His motion to suppress his incriminating statements was denied, and he was convicted following a jury trial. His conviction was affirmed on appeal.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found Cooley was ...

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 a hospital, treated and returned to the jail. Four days later he complained of chest pains and was placed in a detox room monitored by a video camera. The next day, on May 23, 2012, Gonzalez died in his cell; an autopsy found he had suffered a seizure and aspirated fluid into his lungs.

Gonzalez’s family filed suit in federal district court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, naming Ford County and five individuals as defendants and alleging wrongful death, intentional infliction of emotional distress, conspiracy, respondeat superior and a claim under the Local Government and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act. The defendants moved for summary judgment, which was denied by the district court in a text-only entry with “a written order to follow.” Before the written order was entered, however, the defendants filed an interlocutory appeal to the Seventh Circuit, while Gonzalez countered with a motion to ...

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 give birth in U.S. prisons each year, and the vast majority are separated from their babies soon after delivery. But at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in New York, a small program allows prisoners to raise their babies while incarcerated for up to eighteen months following birth. Bedford has the oldest prison nursery in the country, dating back to 1901.

The prisoners who participate in the program are carefully selected and do not include anyone convicted of a violent crime, arson or a crime with a child victim. Those accepted into the program reside in a unit separated from the general prison population; they are still subject to the usual prison rules, including prohibitions on jewelry and makeup.

“We don’t have a lot of space,” said Jacqueline McDougall, 26, whose son Max lived the first nine months of his life in prison. “It’s hard.”

McDougall ...

“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 the law. Several studies maintain that such programs may actually increase the probability of offending by participating youths.

Dating from the 1970s, Scared Straight programs advocating an “in-your-face” confrontational approach have long been thought to benefit at-risk children, but a 2013 study by The Campbell Collaboration found that participating juveniles committed 28% more crimes than non-participants. Mark Lipsey at the Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies reached similar conclusions, stating flatly that Scared Straight programs “do not work.”

That may be because poor decision-making, a lack of impulse control due to immaturity, anger problems and substance abuse issues cannot be addressed by having adult prisoners scream threats at youths in an attempt to frighten them.

Nonetheless, many similar programs still exist across the country, spurred in part by the popular A&E television show “Beyond Scared Straight,” which has won several awards. U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) officials ...

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 felon in possession of a firearm. As part of his 57-month sentence, the district court had recommended his participation in the Bureau of Prisons’ 500-hour Comprehensive Residential Drug Abuse Treatment Program. He did not object to that sentencing provision.

Brown did, however, object to a supervised release condition that prohibited him from using alcohol or entering “bars, taverns, or other establishments whose primary source of income is derived from the sale of alcohol.”

The Eighth Circuit noted that Brown’s criminal history involved no charges related to drugs or alcohol. Nor did he have an “extensive history of drug use,” as he had admitted to using marijuana only twice.

Alcohol bans can be appropriate “for defendants with substance-abuse problems,” but not “where the defendant’s history or crime of conviction [does] not support a complete ban on alcohol.” Such special conditions of supervised release require “an individualized inquiry ...

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 and he would have to go back to his unit. Dobbey was denied any pain medication even though he advised the guard that he was in extreme discomfort.

Despite continued complaints of severe pain, stomach cramps and vomiting, he was not seen by the dentist until two weeks later, when he received penicillin to treat a serious infection and the irreparably-damaged abscessed tooth was extracted. Dobbey filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against both the dentist and the guard in the medical unit, alleging deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs.

The district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment and Dobbey appealed. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded, noting that the lower court had failed to appreciate the severity of the abscessed tooth or attach sufficient weight to the inadequate response of prison staff to Dobbey’s medical condition.

“A tooth abscess is not a simple toothache,” the ...

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 of May 12, 2016, a detailed report on the wasteful spending for capital punishment has prompted renewed discussions as to whether killing killers is worth the trouble or the expense.

A three-year study authored by Judge Arthur L. Alarcon with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and Loyola Law School professor Paula M. Mitchell found that the long process for executions “reflects a wholesale failure to fund the efficient, effective capital punishment system that California voters were told they were choosing” in a series of voter initiatives over the past three decades that expanded the death penalty to include 39 “special circumstances” categories of murder.

In “Executing the Will of the Voters: A Roadmap to Mend or End the California Legislature’s Multi-Billion Dollar Death Penalty Debacle,” Judge Alarcon and Professor Mitchell wrote that unless “profound” changes are made by lawmakers who have ignored earlier recommendations ...

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 Tom Dart’s policy of prohibiting the delivery of newspapers to prisoners while allowing magazines and books – which are made of the same material as newspapers – violates the First Amendment.

Prisoner Gregory Koger was serving a 300-day sentence at the Cook County Jail and received various magazines and books without incident, but jail authorities rejected his subscription to the Chicago Tribune. Koger alleged in his federal civil rights complaint that “Defendant Dart has promulgated and enforced a constitutionally defective policy that prohibits all inmates at the Cook County Jail from receiving and obtaining any newspapers.” The ban on newspapers had been in effect since 1984.

Both parties filed motions for summary judgment; in his response, Dart argued that “(1) newspapers are flammable, (2) they can cause sanitation problems (inmates can use them to clog toilets, and they are issued with greater frequency than other publications, thus increasing ...

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’ basic needs were neglected.

Nurses at the facility said they were unable to get latex gloves that fit them or adult diapers that do not leak. Prisoners complained of a lack of towels and soap. Prisoners’ rights advocates noted some prisoners had been left in broken wheelchairs or in soiled clothes. Disabled prisoners were left on toilets for hours.

Two issues were at the core of these problems: understaffing and a split administration. Both had their origins in the litigation which led a federal court to declare California’s prison system unconstitutional due to inadequate medical care. The prison in Stockton was built as a direct result of that ruling. [See: PLN, June 2013, p.54; July 2011, p.1].

A federal district court appointed J. Clark Kelso as the Receiver to oversee medical care in California prisons, and as often happens when federal courts exercise authority over state agencies, the ...

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 revealed a small gun, a screwdriver, pocket knives, balloons filled with drugs and numerous other hidden items. But in August 2013 the Ohio Health Department ordered the county to stop using the scanner. Why? A state administrative code prohibits the use of X-ray devices unless prescribed by a physician.

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil believes the code is out-of-date and should be modernized to take into account digital scanner technology. SecurPass claims the scans present no health hazard due to the low amount of radiation used. It takes only 8 seconds for a scanner to complete a full-body scan, which adds about a minute to the booking process.

Tessie Pollock, spokesperson for the Department of Health, said the Sheriff’s office could apply for a waiver, but had not done so. She stated the department is willing to consider updating the rules but must regulate all machines that emit ionizing radiation ...

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 in jail until a bond hearing, which could take up to a week. Her case caught the attention of the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law, which promptly filed a federal civil rights suit that sought class-action status on behalf of all indigent defendants without funds to obtain their release on bail pending trial.

Moss Point utilized a system of “secured bail” arrest bonds that made no provision for the financial status of the arrestees – a system that as early as the 1960s was recognized to be blatantly discriminatory. Under a secured bail system, defendants with money could secure their release while those who had allegedly committed similar offenses but were unable to post the fixed bond amount stayed in jail. This resulted not only in many innocent people being unnecessarily confined due to lack of funds, but also forced many of them to ...

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 Lake Region 911. Nearby local governments pay a per diem rate to house prisoners at the facility.

Tom Rime, the head administrator at LEC, announced on April 6, 2016 that inspectors would soon arrive from the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Corrections to “go through our jail with a fine tooth comb.” Faced with a slew of problems, including guard misconduct, an escape and staff shortages, Rime turned to the federal agency for help.

The problems at LEC began in 2014 when guard Jonathan Defoe was accused of, and eventually pleaded guilty to, having sexual contact with a prisoner. Jail administrator Denny Deegan was fired following that incident and other problems at LEC, including staff shortages. In early 2015, then-guard Rachel Marie Chepulis helped prisoner Wesley E. Brown III escape; she was sentenced to 40 months in prison in September 2015. Meanwhile, in May 2015, a ...

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 for the program could receive a sentence reduction of up to two years, while there was no comparable program for male prisoners. That, said Judge England, was unconstitutional because it violated the equal protection clause.

The district court wrote that the “ACP permits participants to be released from prison to live in a residential home, transitional care facility, or residential drug treatment program for up to the last twenty-four months of their prison sentence,” and each program participant is “monitored by a [probation] agent and is also subject to electronic monitoring and searches.”

While the court said it was “confident that the California Legislature acted with the best of intentions in establishing the ACP ... by insisting that this is just a programming case, Defendants utterly fail to acknowledge Plaintiff’s primary point. This case is not about programming. It is about freedom from incarceration.”

The problem involved the ...

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 state’s largest drug court. Her “tyrannical” behavior in that court, however, led to her downfall.

That was the conclusion reached by the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission, which began an investigation after Williams filed an ethics complaint alleging campaign violations by her opponent, Mary Helen Moses, during a 2010 election. The complaint claimed a letter written by attorney David Alexander, who was backing Moses, violated the ethics of judicial elections.

Alexander told investigators he could document all his claims involving Williams, and turned over what he had. The subsequent ethics charges filed against Williams accused her of sending defendants to jail for indefinite terms, cutting off their access to lawyers and relatives.

Williams denied such claims, but the Commission had a copy of a recording in which she gave direct instructions to that effect when ordering the incarceration of Lindsey Dills, who had a history of suicide attempts, in August 2011 ...

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 examined, 39 states experienced declines and 11 had increases in their prison populations.

According to the study, “Just as mass incarceration has developed primarily as a result of changes in policy, not crime rates, so too have declines reflected changes in both policy and practice.” Those policies and practices “have included such measures as drug policy sentencing reforms, reduced admissions of technical parole violators to prison, and diversion options for persons convicted of lower-level property and drug crimes.”

The states with the greatest declines in their prison populations from 1999 to 2014 were New Jersey at 31.4%, closely followed by New York at 28.1%, Rhode Island at 25.5%, California at 21.8%, Connecticut at 18.5%, and Mississippi and Hawaii with declines of 17.6% and 17.2%, respectively. Other states with double-digit decreases included Michigan, Vermont, Alaska, South Carolina and Colorado. Some of those ...

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 Inside, a charity established in 2005 to help ex-offenders gain job skills.

However, most of the fashion houses using the prison-made bags have been shy about publicizing the fact that the fashion accessories are made by prisoners earning far less than minimum wage. Brora, Anya Hindmarch and Sue Bonham are brands that have ordered the prison-crafted products.

Blue Sky claims it has no part in setting prison wages, which are determined by the National Offenders Management Service, though the agency says prisoners who participate in the project are paid slightly more than the average weekly prison wage.

A spokesperson for Anya Hindmarch stated, “We are incredibly proud to support this project. A small amount of our protective cotton packaging is produced by Blue Sky Inside. Sourcing this cost us more money. However, we see the project making a real difference to women trying to get their lives back on track ...

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 ultimately led to his premature death. After hearing testimony from Degina and various medical experts on both sides, Judge Frank Milano awarded $1.75 million to Degina’s estate on September 28, 2015.

While incarcerated at the Clinton Correctional Facility in August 2009, Degina “presented himself to defendant complaining of severe abdominal pain, defendant transported him via ambulance to the emergency room of Champlain Valley Physician’s Hospital (CVPH) where he was examined and an abdominal CAT scan was performed.” The hospital diagnosed him with severe swelling of the left kidney as well as a mass that obstructed one of the ducts in the kidney. However, DOCCS medical staff failed to follow up on the hospital’s diagnosis and treat Degina for the obstruction.

According to Judge Milano, “The law is well settled ‘that where the State engages in a proprietary function such as providing medical and psychiatric care, it is held ...

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 at the same facility. An investigation resulted in the arrests of 10 Florida Department of Corrections employees.

Combs, who oversaw the prison’s work camp, had been enrolled in the state’s 401(k)-style retirement plan when he pleaded no contest to two charges with adjudication withheld. That allowed him to avoid a conviction record if he met specific conditions; however, the Board then notified Combs he had forfeited his state retirement benefits.

Combs appealed, arguing that he should not lose his benefits because the charges were not related to his job and there had been no “breach of the public trust.” Chisenhall disagreed, finding that “Mr. Combs defrauded the public from receiving the faithful performance of his duties as a correctional officer. The public had a right to expect that one of its employees would not purchase drugs from someone he supervised. The public also had a right to ...

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 enactment of Initiative 502, which legalized use of the drug. As such, said DOC Assistant Secretary Annmarie Alyward, “We’re putting some changes into effect so that we don’t routinely test offenders in the community for THC [the psychoactive compound in cannabis].” She added, “We don’t want [parolees] held at that level when, as a citizen, you wouldn’t be held to that level either.”

According to the DOC, state judges will still have the power to prohibit parolees from marijuana use on a case-by-case basis, as will the DOC when such restrictions are required in specific cases.

The change in drug testing will undoubtedly reduce costs. Prior to the new policy, parolees were tested via urinalysis for traces of six drugs, including THC. That list is now down to five. Further, the DOC will no longer invest large amounts of resources into processing parole violators for marijuana use, thereby ...

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 he sent to the home of the governor’s chief of staff that encouraged the destruction of public records.

Wall, who had initially been demoted to an administrative position with the Wisconsin Department of Justice after allegations of abuse surfaced at the state’s youth prison, was fired because Schimel said he had lost confidence in Wall’s leadership abilities.

“It’s an unfortunate circumstance, but I can’t have confidence in an employee, especially one in law enforcement, who encourages someone else in government to break the law,” Schimel stated.

Wall’s termination stemmed from a letter he sent to the home address of Governor Scott Walker’s chief of staff, Rich Zipperer, about a week after a demotion in his job responsibilities.

“I know that you didn’t want me sending this electronically or to the office because of the [open] records issue, so I elected instead to send it to your home in writing ...

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 Court agreed, noting in a November 23, 2015 decision that the DOC had failed to properly justify its closure of a purification (sweat) lodge, allegedly because smoke had seeped from the lodge into the administration area of the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center (SBCC).

RLUIPA was passed by Congress in 2000 to discourage prison officials from restricting prisoners’ religious practices based upon generalized, non-evidence based reasons. “Indeed, prison policies ‘grounded on mere speculation’ are exactly the ones that motivated Congress to enact RLUIPA,” the Supreme Judicial Court stated.

RLUIPA provides for exceptions where correctional security or the health of prisoners or staff can be shown to be negatively impacted. In such cases, prison officials still have the burden of showing they have instituted the least restrictive means that still allow prisoners to exercise their religious beliefs. Indeed, the Court wrote, the DOC must demonstrate “that it lacks other means of achieving ...

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 May 2004 when he began to suffer seizure-like symptoms. He was seen at a hospital, and as he was being returned to the jail, guards disconnected his medical devices and restraints; that resulted in an altercation in which Benton was struck and pepper sprayed.

When he arrived at the jail, still in restraints, guards allegedly shoved him to the concrete floor, sprayed him with chemicals and placed him in a chokehold until he passed out. The guards, including jailers John E. Gray and Jay M. Schmeltz, failed to inform medical staff of Benton’s injuries. He was pronounced brain dead on June 1, 2004 and removed from life support the next day.

Jail staff, including supervisory personnel, allegedly falsified after-incident reports and advised Benton’s family that he had died due to natural causes. The cover-up was not discovered for almost four years, and the family then filed a federal civil rights ...

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 family. His conviction was reversed because the prosecution withheld evidence that cast doubt on his guilt, and he was acquitted at another jury trial in 2003.

“We felt good about the retrial; the evidence suggested we were going to win. We were worried about what happens next, after he walks out of prison after 18 years,” said Michael Banks, one of Thompson’s appellate attorneys. “There’s not a lot of vocational training on death row; the only thing you’re trained for is to learn to die.”

Thompson was married and had a steady job just six months after his release. By 2005 he had a new home, a car and a dog, and he and his wife were running their own sandwich shop. Then Hurricane Katrina wiped it out. That made Thompson realize he was not the only one struggling to ease back into society.

“Men come home and ...

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, 34. Walker continued to work at the prison as she became Abernathy’s girlfriend.

Following his release, Abernathy met a 16-year-old girl in June 2012. She told him that she had run away from a court-ordered juvenile program at the Allegheny County’s Shuman Juvenile Detention Center.

“Abernathy told her that she could live with his girlfriend, Walker” FBI Special Agent Michael Goodhue wrote in an affidavit. “At the time, he did not disclose to the juvenile that he also lived with Walker.”

He also failed to inform her that the residence only had one bed, which the girl shared with the couple. From July 2012 to March 2013, Abernathy and Walker posted online ads with the girl’s picture, offering her for sexual services. Before sending her out, they would give her marijuana and pain pills to relax her. Abernathy would tell her how much to charge, while Walker showed her ...

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 $4.00 an hour for performing asbestos abatement.

In 2013, seven Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) prisoners worked in two nine-hour shifts to remove 4,000 feet of old vinyl floor tiles and adhesive in the dining area of the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW).

On June 8, 2013, the Washington Department of Labor & Industries (DLI) inspected the WCCW abatement project and found negligent work practices that violated the Washington State Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA). As a result, prisoner workers may have inhaled asbestos dust, which can cause lung disease or cancer, according to DLI.

Specifically, the workers failed to soak the dry material in water to keep asbestos dust out of the air. And although prisoners were issued masks, gloves and other protective equipment, inspectors found they did not wear that gear at all times and their supervisors failed to take corrective measures.

On December ...

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 study, “49% of female and 23% of male prisoners were suffering from anxiety and depression, as opposed to 19% of women and 12% of men in the general UK population.”

These mental health conditions often arise as a result of little or no contact with family members and friends. The Ministry study indicated that 30% of prisoners who committed suicide had no contact with their families while incarcerated. A program called “Prisoners’ Penfriends” has stepped into the breach to counteract feelings of isolation and depression. Under the program, which is approved by HM Prison Service, trained volunteers whose identities are concealed for reasons of safety correspond with participating prisoners.

The project’s supervisor, University of Warwick professor Jacqueline Hodgson, stated, “The prisoner and volunteer accounts paint a rich picture of genuine relationships of care and trust between penfriends which demonstrate that even within the constraint necessary for the protection of ...

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 to one-half inch long; however, one prisoner had already received a judgment permitting him to wear a “fist-length” beard four inches long, which was affirmed on appeal.

In March 2009, Texas state prisoner David Rasheed Ali filed suit in federal court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging his Muslim religious faith required that he wear a white knit kufi (a brimless hat traditionally worn in parts of Africa) throughout the prison instead of only in his cell, as required by prison regulations, and that he grow a “fist-length” beard. The district court ruled in Ali’s favor following a July 2014 bench trial, and issued an injunction allowing him to wear his kufi and grow a longer beard.

Texas prison officials appealed. The court denied a stay of the appeal pending the Supreme Court’s decision in Holt, and the TDCJ implemented its new grooming policy that allows prisoners ...

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 murder weapon, a 12-inch shank, by DNA evidence. Jordan’s attorney filed for a new trial under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 based upon newly-discovered evidence.

The district court judge – the same judge who had presided over the original criminal proceeding against Jordan – conducted the Rule 33 hearing. Defense counsel presented Riker and a DNA expert, but federal prosecutors called six witnesses in rebuttal. None of the six had testified at Jordan’s original trial, but all now implicated him in the killing. Four said that Stone had named Jordan as his killer with his dying declaration, one said he saw Jordan stab Stone and the last witness claimed to have heard Jordan make incriminating statements. The district court denied relief under Rule 33.

Jordan appealed, arguing that “Rule 33 permits consideration only of (1) evidence admitted at trial and (2) newly discovered evidence offered by the defendant. Based ...

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 this nation,” declared then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a December 20, 2012 Department of Correction graduation ceremony. “But unlike the rest of the country, the number of people we are incarcerating has also gone down. Some people say the only way you stop crime is to incarcerate. We have proven that to be untrue: successfully preventing crime and breaking cycles of criminal activity can save thousands from a life of cycling through the criminal justice system.”

In 2001, the New York City (NYC) crime rate was 13 percent higher than the rest of the nation. Between 2001 and 2010, however, major felonies fell 32 percent in NYC while the rest of the country saw a decrease of only 13 percent.

The New York Police Department (NYPD) announced a “new record-low” level of violent crime in 2015 compared to the previous year. Overall, the number of arrests declined ...

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 until 2010. It was only then that Nally realized he had a serious and potentially life-threatening condition, and he filed a pro se federal civil rights complaint alleging deliberate indifference.

The district court dismissed his suit for failure to file before the expiration of the statute of limitations. After reviewing the facts of the case, the Seventh Circuit reversed that dismissal on August 24, 2015.

Nally, the Court of Appeals stated, “required treatment but appears not to have received any. A prediabetic often can avoid or delay becoming diabetic by cutting his sugar intake in accordance with advice from a nutritionist, by dieting, and by increased exercise or other physical activity.”

“For the medical staff of a prison, to know that an inmate is diabetic or prediabetic, yet not tell him, let alone do nothing to treat his condition, is therefore, to be reckless (a synonym for deliberately indifferent ...

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 the private prison contractors.

Between 2011 and 2012, CCA and GEO spent over $4,350,000 competing for federal prison contracts. Many of those contracts involved the detention of undocumented immigrants. While that may seem like a lot of money, the two companies netted $1.4 billion in detention contracts from the federal government in 2011 alone. The more prominent lobbying firms that represent CCA include Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, LLP; McBee Strategic Consulting, LLC; Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, Inc.; and Sisco Consulting, LLC.

According to their 2015 annual reports, both CCA and GEO Group receive over 40% of their gross revenue from the federal government – and a large amount of that revenue is from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), for immigrant detention.

Grassroots Leadership and Detention Watch Network, both non-profit organizations that oppose prison privatization, reported that over half of ICE detention facilities are operated by private ...

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 keep up with the market because if you don’t, you’re going to be out of business,” Glenn Johnson, who manages Right Away Bail Bonds, said of bailing out defendants with little to no down payment.

But while the new bail schemes are frustrating prosecutors who rely on pretrial detention to coerce defendants into unfair plea bargains, they are also forcing friends and family who have co-signed for the bonds to take over payments if a defendant is convicted or jumps bail.

Before the payment-plan trend, defendants were typically required to pay 10% of the bond amount set by a preliminary or trial judge, in cash.

If bond was set at $100,000, for example, a bail bondsman required a defendant to pay a premium of $10,000 to get out of jail – a payment that was not refundable even if he or she was eventually found not guilty ...

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 and the state prevailed on a summary judgment motion. Riker appealed, claiming that her right to marry had been unreasonably restricted. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, reversing and remanding the case on August 14, 2015.

Although the facts in this suit raise issues of concern to prisoners’ rights advocates who decry abusive or coercive sexual relationships between prisoners and guards, which are against the law in all states, the only issue before the appellate court was the right of a former guard to marry a prisoner she had met while supervising him.

The Seventh Circuit began its analysis by noting that “‘federal courts must take cognizance of the valid constitutional claims of prison inmates. Prison walls do not form a barrier separating prison inmates from the protections of the Constitution,’” quoting Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987). The Court of Appeals added, “The Constitution protects ...

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 ...

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, were deprived of sleep and even anally sodomized by jail officials as part of routine “searches.”

Named in the suit as defendants were Sheriff John McMahon, Captain Jeff Rose (the commander of the jail) and eight deputies and contract guards. Three of the defendant guards were fired in the wake of a joint state and federal criminal and administrative investigation: Brock Teyechea, Andrew Cruz and Nicholas Oakley.

Rana Anabtawi, a staff attorney at the Prison Law Office, based in Berkeley, said her firm has been investigating complaints involving “dozens” of prisoners who alleged excessive force and substandard medical care at the West Valley facility, which houses some 3,000 prisoners. All six of the plaintiffs who filed suit were confined in the jail’s Unit 11, a segregation wing for those needing protection from the general population. They alleged that they were shocked with stun guns while being served food ...

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 City Manager Marissa Trejo fielded a proposal to repurpose the now-vacant Claremont facility.

In what could be described as the height of irony, Southern California-based Ocean Grown Extracts submitted a plan to convert the empty prison, once used to house hundreds of drug offenders, into a large-scale cannabis oil manufacturing operation. This is not the first time a city has considered such a use for a former prison. In 2014, businessman Nick Erker unsuccessfully approached the Brush City, Colorado council with a plan to convert the vacant High Plains Correctional Facility into a marijuana farm. [See: PLN, Apr. 2015, p.63].

Ocean Grown’s proposal received initial support from the Coalinga City Council, which acknowledged numerous economic benefits for the town, including at least 100 full-time jobs and nearly $2 million in tax and lease revenue. The city also considered the potential for the company’s growth should California legalize recreational marijuana ...

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 15, 2014 with 14 prisoners in administrative detention – comparable to solitary confinement – refusing to eat breakfast. As many as 25 prisoners joined the hunger strike at its peak. More than three weeks later, at least nine protesters remained on hunger strike, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), which said the prisoners were placed under medical observation in the infirmary.

Chief among the prisoners’ complaints was that Menard officials had refused to inform them why they’d been placed in the HSU, according to Stoughton Lynd, a prisoner advocate who had communicated with the hunger strikers through letters and a third party. Lynd said the HSU prisoners had not been afforded due process and felt the protest was their best recourse.

The prisoners also wrote letters to the Uptown People’s Law Center (UPLC) in Chicago, complaining that the HSU was “filthy,” infested with mice, freezing cold and ...

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 second mentally ill prisoner, Juan Villa, shortly before the fatal attack on Tyree. Superior Court Judge Ron M. Del Pozzo ruled that the criminal case against the trio of guards should move forward. If convicted, they face life in prison.

California: The Kern County Sheriff’s office told reporters that a prisoner crashed a van at the Lerdo Jail in an apparent escape attempt on March 2, 2016. Ramon Castro, 23, was being loaded into a transport vehicle along with six other prisoners when he slipped out of his handcuffs and climbed into the driver’s seat of the running van. Castro was arrested at gunpoint before he reached the main gate, but not until he nearly ran over a deputy, crashed through a locked gate and slammed the van into a jail employee’s personal vehicle. Everyone received minor injuries in the crash, but none of the six hijacked prisoners faced charges ...


 

Federal Prison Handbook

 



 

InmateMagazineService.com

 



 

Prisoners Self Help Litigation Manual

 



 


 

Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual