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Prisoner Education Guide

Prison Legal News: July, 2016

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Volume 27, Number 7

In this issue:

  1. Betraying the Promise of Accreditation: Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? (p 1)
  2. Supreme Court Sets Aside Death Penalty Conviction on Batson Grounds (p 16)
  3. From the Editor (p 16)
  4. Congressional Black Caucus PAC Urged to Cut Ties with Private Prison Lobbyists (p 17)
  5. In California Death Row’s “Adjustment Center,” Condemned Men Wait in Solitary Confinement (p 18)
  6. Court Issues New Injunction Mandating Education for NYC Prisoners at Rikers Island (p 20)
  7. Ex-captain Sentenced for Raping Subordinate at Virginia Prison (p 21)
  8. U.S. Supreme Court: Prisoners Must Exhaust “Available” Administrative Remedies (p 22)
  9. Ninth Circuit Finds Accidental Amputation of Prisoner’s Fingertip Not a § 1983 Violation (p 22)
  10. Michigan State Prisoner Receives $1,250 for Interference with Visit (p 23)
  11. UK Security Company’s Long History of Controversy, Misconduct (p 24)
  12. Coroner: California Prisoner’s Death Due to Starvation (p 25)
  13. The Taste of Exploitation: Whole Foods Stops Carrying Products Made by Prisoners (p 26)
  14. Tennessee Enacts Contrary “Ban the Box” Bills (p 27)
  15. Breaking News: 18 Deaths in Six Months at Mississippi State Penitentiary (p 28)
  16. Ohio Prison Guards Cited for Sexual Misconduct with Prisoners (p 28)
  17. Florida Drug Court Judge’s Relapse Results in Removal from Bench (p 30)
  18. Supreme Court Allows Prisoner’s § 1983 Action after Dismissal of Federal Tort Claim (p 31)
  19. A Deadly Dust is Plaguing Hawaii Prisoners in Arizona (p 32)
  20. Overcrowding at South Dakota Prison Impacts Family Visitation Program (p 35)
  21. Defendants Claim Sexual Abuse by Arkansas Judge (p 35)
  22. Cities Re-evaluating Housing Bans for Former Prisoners (p 36)
  23. The End of Prison Visitation (p 38)
  24. California Jail Ordered to Restore Attorney-Client Contact Visits (p 41)
  25. Multiple Suicides at Florida Jail a Cause for Concern (p 42)
  26. Wisconsin Prisoner’s Civil Rights Action Alleging Verbal Harassment Reinstated (p 42)
  27. Demonstrators Protest Gates Foundation’s $2.2 Million Investment in GEO Group (p 44)
  28. Seventh Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Federal Prisoner’s Bivens Suit Over Medical Care (p 45)
  29. Indiana ACLU Announces Settlement to Help Mentally Ill Prisoners (p 46)
  30. Second Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Bivens Suit Due to Continuing Violation Doctrine (p 46)
  31. Indiana Prisoner Dies after Cell Extraction (p 47)
  32. Connecticut Prisoner Wins Motion for Sanctions over Destruction of Evidence; Case Settles for $40,000 (p 48)
  33. Contaminated Sites and Prisons in New Jersey (p 48)
  34. Mississippi DOC Guard Trainee Busted for Smuggling Contraband (p 49)
  35. Dallas Conviction Integrity Unit Gains National Notoriety (p 50)
  36. DC Prisoner Awarded $70,000 for ADA Violations at CCA-run Jail (p 50)
  37. Florida Courthouse Employees Commit Crimes with “Alarming Regularity” (p 51)
  38. Illinois Sheriff Demotes One, Fires 3, Suspends 10 after Death of Jail Detainee (p 52)
  39. Dekalb County Settles Lawsuit, Ends Debtors’ Prisons (p 52)
  40. Study Shows Modest Decline in Prison Populations (p 53)
  41. Crowdfunding Projects Present Opportunities for Prisoners (p 54)
  42. OIG Study: Bureau of Prisons Held Thousands of Prisoners Beyond Release Dates (p 54)
  43. Medical Statistical Model Used to Estimate Wrongful Conviction Rate in Death Penalty Cases (p 56)
  44. Canadian Prison Staff, Cellmate Charged in Prisoner’s Beating Death (p 56)
  45. Courts Divided on Confidentiality of Attorney-Prisoner Email (p 58)
  46. Pfizer Deals Blow to Lethal Injections (p 58)
  47. Private Prison Execs Continue to Make Much More than Guards (p 59)
  48. Pennsylvania: Woman Dies in Jail While Serving Sentence for Truancy Fines and Court Costs (p 60)
  49. Seventh Circuit Affirms Prison Policy Banning Adult Magazines, with Caveats (p 60)
  50. Georgia: Federal Court Finds Bond System Unfair to Indigent Defendants, Enters Injunction (p 62)
  51. Amnesty International: Sudanese Prisoners Housed in Shipping Containers (p 62)
  52. News in Brief (p 63)

Betraying the Promise of Accreditation: Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

Widespread disdain for people held in prisons and jails, public apathy for humane conditions in detention facilities, tough-on-crime political rhetoric and the privatization of correctional services by for-profit companies have taken a collective toll on the quality of our nation’s criminal justice system. Outwardly, organizations like the American Correctional Association (ACA) and National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) champion high standards for conditions of confinement and medical treatment for prisoners, respectively, and provide accreditation to facilities that meet those standards. Often, however, accreditation supplies little more than a thin veneer of respectability that glosses over constitutional violations and other abuses.

Read the ACA’s promotional materials and you will be convinced it is committed to policies and practices vital to ensuring the safe and humane operation of prisons, jails and other detention facilities. Yet study how the ACA actually operates and you’ll quickly see that in terms of purpose and effectiveness the entire accreditation process is a sham; the ACA lacks the power to affect, impose or enforce meaningful change in our nation’s corrections system. Both the ACA and NCCHC are also plagued by conflicts of interest, including the fact that they effectively sell accreditation to their correctional colleagues and ...

Supreme Court Sets Aside Death Penalty Conviction on Batson Grounds

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-1 decision, left no doubt that it did not believe prosecutors’ assertions that race was not a factor during jury selection in a death penalty case. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority in a May 23, 2016 decision, found that prosecutors had impermissibly excluded prospective jurors on the basis of race in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986).

At the time of his arrest in 1986, Timothy Tyrone Foster was 18 years old, black and facing capital murder charges. In the course of jury selection, prosecutors used peremptory challenges to exclude all four prospective black jurors. Foster was convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to death; he lost his state appeals and his habeas petition was rejected. However, a public records request under Georgia’s Open Records Act uncovered evidence that the black jurors were excluded on the basis of their race, contrary to Batson.

Foster’s attorney had made a Batson motion at trial, which was denied. He raised the same issue on direct appeal before the appellate court and the Supreme Court of Georgia. During the state habeas proceeding, newly-obtained documents from the prosecution file disclosed ...

From the Editor

Over the years PLN has reported extensively on the ACA and NCCHC, and the “accreditation” scams they run using taxpayer money to promote mass incarceration and the prison industry. They are not alone; many other groups like the American Jail Association and National Sheriffs’ Association represent the interests of those who benefit from our carceral nation. Perhaps nothing illustrates their corrupt nature better than the federal bribery charges brought against Christopher B. Epps, who served as president of both the ACA and Association of State Correctional Administrators, and commissioner of the Mississippi Dept. of Corrections.

This month’s cover story is part of our ongoing and long-standing coverage of the diverse companies and interests that profit from mass incarceration.

In addition to their inherent corruption and conflicts of interest, or probably because of them, organizations such as the ACA and NCCHC lack transparency. Several years ago I was at a conference on oversight of prisons and jails, and an ACA rep was discussing accreditation as some means of oversight. He was candid when I asked if the ACA had ever denied accreditation to any agency, saying he wasn’t aware of it and even if such a thing had happened, they would ...

Congressional Black Caucus PAC Urged to Cut Ties with Private Prison Lobbyists

The Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee (CBC PAC) says that it works to increase the number of African-Americans in the U.S. Congress, support non-black candidates who champion black interests, and promote African American participation in the political process.

However, Color of Change (CoC), the nation’s largest online civil rights organization, has accused the Caucus of not working in the best interests of the black community. CoC launched a national campaign in April 2016 to urge the CBC PAC to stop accepting funding from lobbyists that advocate for private prisons, arguing that private prison companies target African-Americans to reap corporate profits.

Research has found that privately-operated prisons house a disproportionate number of minorities that is even greater than the disparity in public prisons. [See: PLN, March 2014, p.20; March 2013, p.16].

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group – the two largest for-profit prison firms in the U.S. – have donated millions of dollars to political candidates and spent millions more lobbying government agencies.

“Ironically, both Democratic presidential candidates have shunned contributions from private prison lobbyists but the CBC PAC has taken thousands of dollars from Akin Gump, the lobbying firm that makes millions ...

In California Death Row’s “Adjustment Center,” Condemned Men Wait in Solitary Confinement

by Alyssa Stryker, Solitary Watch

“When we were sentenced to death,” wrote Carlos M. Argueta from death row in California, “we weren’t sentenced to be mistreated, humiliated, discriminated against, psychologically tortured and kept in solitary dungeons until the day of our executions. Never once did the judge say that was to be part of our sentence.” He was speaking about life in San Quentin State Prison’s Adjustment Center, a “prison within a prison” with a name worthy of any fictional dystopia.

The Adjustment Center is at the epicenter of California’s death row system, which The Atlantic recently called “simultaneously the most and least prolific wielder of the death penalty.” Although the state continually metes out death sentences – there were 747 people awaiting execution in June 2016, nearly twice as many as the next highest state – almost no one is executed. California has held just six executions since the start of the 21st century, and none since 2006. In March of this year, the LA Times reported that death row at San Quentin – home to all men on death row in California – had literally run out of room.

The Adjustment Center, the harshest of the three death row units at San Quentin, is severe even compared to ...

Court Issues New Injunction Mandating Education for NYC Prisoners at Rikers Island

Prisoners’ rights advocates know that education is a key element of reducing recidivism, and the federal Bureau of Prisons and most state departments of corrections agree. However, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has had to continue its decade-long oversight of the infamous Rikers Island complex to ensure that school-eligible prisoners between the ages of 16 and 21 receive educational services that were agreed to after six years of litigation that concluded in 2002, in a lawsuit brought under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. [See: PLN, June 2007, p.39; Nov. 2000, p.15; May 2000, p.40].

The injunction that ended the lawsuit against the New York City Department of Corrections (DOC) required jail officials to work with the New York Board of Education (DOE) “to implement procedures to bring the educational services at the Rikers Island prison complex into compliance with state and federal law.” See: Handberry v. Thompson, 219 F.Supp.2d 525 (S.D.N.Y. 2002). After allegations arose that despite the injunction many prisoners had “received no educational services for significant lengths of time” and “hundreds of adolescent inmates held in special housing areas ... received absolutely ...

Ex-captain Sentenced for Raping Subordinate at Virginia Prison

Lloyd G. Samuels, a former captain employed by the Virginia Department of Corrections and a naturalized U.S. citizen from Jamaica, was sentenced on March 11, 2016 to 10 years in prison with six years suspended for raping a fellow prison employee in a staff barracks. Samuels’ unidentified victim has remained on medical leave since the 2014 incident, “still impacted” by the sexual assault.

“It is not something that is going to go away for her” anytime soon, said Circuit Judge Timothy K. Sanner, who ordered Samuels to register as a sex offender in addition to the prison term.

The victim told a prison chaplain about the rape a day or so after the incident, but kept silent for around a year before reporting it to prison authorities. The woman said she was intimidated by Samuels’ stature as a “popular person in the facility and in DOC” and his “position of rank.” At the chaplain’s urging, however, she preserved the pajama pants she was wearing at the time of the sexual assault, and DNA that matched Samuels was later obtained from the garment.

Samuels was arrested in August 2015 and entered an Alford plea to a reduced charge of ...

U.S. Supreme Court: Prisoners Must Exhaust “Available” Administrative Remedies

Shaidon Blake, a Maryland prisoner, claimed that he was punched in the face and had his head slammed into a wall by guard James Madigan while handcuffed during a move to a segregation cell – an assault that he reported to the prison system’s Internal Investigative Unit (IIU). The IIU conducted a review of the June 2007 incident and issued a report condemning Madigan’s actions while making no findings as to another guard, Michael Ross, who had allegedly facilitated Madigan’s use of excessive force. Meanwhile, Blake filed a lawsuit in federal court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his civil rights.

Following trial, Madigan was found liable and the jury awarded $50,000 in damages. Ross, however, raised an affirmative defense arguing that Blake had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). Blake maintained that the IIU investigation was a substitute for the grievance procedure, but the district court disagreed and dismissed his complaint. The Fourth Circuit reversed in a split decision, holding that “special circumstances” could excuse a failure to exhaust administrative remedies where a prisoner reasonably believed that he had in fact exhausted his remedies, even ...

Ninth Circuit Finds Accidental Amputation of Prisoner’s Fingertip Not a § 1983 Violation

The tip of pretrial detainee Cherie Harding’s little finger was accidentally severed in her cell’s door frame when a guard at a San Francisco jail opened the door to commence a pat-down search. Harding claimed that even though her finger was bleeding profusely, she was shackled for transport to the emergency room, which resulted in extreme pain. After her fingertip was successfully reattached she was returned to the jail, where she was told to either clean toilets using her good hand or be sent to “lockup.”

Neither the federal district court nor the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in an unpublished opinion, found that those circumstances constituted violations of Harding’s rights. The Ninth Circuit upheld the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the City of San Francisco and jail officials.

According to the appellate court, Harding’s injury was “an unfortunate accident,” prompted by the placement of her own hand on the door frame, and “[a]ccidents alone are not constitutional violations.” The Court of Appeals added, “Though [she] contends that [the deputy] should have responded more expertly to [her] injury, this alone does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation ... deliberate indifference is ...

Michigan State Prisoner Receives $1,250 for Interference with Visit

Michigan state prisoner Kevin King was awarded $1,250 in punitive damages and $1 in compensatory damages after a federal jury found that a guard had intentionally interfered with a visit with his wife. The court determined that the guard, Tiffany Williams, had violated the civil rights of both King and his wife when Williams threatened him with a disciplinary charge for an alleged violation of the visiting rules, then prevented him from making an immediate complaint to a prison supervisor.

While housed at the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility on July 5, 2012, King alleged that Williams had purposely interfered with his and his wife’s First Amendment right of free association. He stated in an amended complaint that his wife complained of having to wait 55 minutes, without justification, before being admitted to the visiting room, and that once the visit commenced they were unable to sit next to each other and engage in even the minimal physical contact permitted under Michigan Department of Corrections visitation directives.

According to those directives, “Physical contact between prisoners and visitors is prohibited except for one kiss and one embrace between a prisoner and each of his/her visitors at the beginning and ...

UK Security Company’s Long History of Controversy, Misconduct

According to its website, G4S is the world’s “leading global integrated security company.” Besides providing security services, it also operates private prisons and immigration detention centers, provides electronic tagging (monitoring) for offenders on community supervision and has a prisoner transport service – mostly in the United Kingdom. G4S also manages over 30 juvenile facilities in the U.S.

Despite its impressive portfolio of security-related services, G4S was assessed a £109 million ($164 million) fine plus tax by the UK’s Ministry of Justice in March 2014. The company admitted to charging the British government for the electronic monitoring of deceased, non-existent or already-incarcerated offenders. The fraud allegedly took place between 2005 and 2013.

According to Sadiq Khan, the UK’s Shadow Justice Minister, “This large sum of money G4S [is] repaying taxpayers shows the true scale of the wrongdoing that went on ... [and] led to huge damage to the public’s confidence in our criminal justice system.”

As a result of the electronic monitoring scandal, G4S was banned from doing business with the British government until the Ministry of Justice saw evidence of “corporate renewal.” The government lifted its ban in April 2014, one month after the security firm agreed ...

Coroner: California Prisoner’s Death Due to Starvation

Ann Marie Patrick wants an investigation into the death of her son at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville. Michael Stanley Galliher, 49, was found dead six days after he was transferred to the prison from a state mental hospital. A coroner’s report released on March 8, 2016 following a public records request from the Associated Press found that Galliher had died due to “complications of inanition” – a condition resulting from lack of nourishment.

Patrick said her son had schizophrenia that resulted in paranoid behavior in which he was afraid to eat in front of others. Along with Michael Bien, one of the attorneys representing sick and mentally ill California prisoners in a class-action lawsuit, she is calling for an investigation as part of her wrongful death suit against prison officials. Patrick was also upset that she learned about Galliher’s death after she tried to contact him to wish him happy birthday and was told he had died two months earlier. Her ex-husband had been notified, but the message was never passed along to her.

Department of State Hospitals spokesman Ken August said in an email that he couldn’t discuss specific cases or even confirm that Galliher had been ...

The Taste of Exploitation: Whole Foods Stops Carrying Products Made by Prisoners

Visit the website for Haystack Mountain, a Colorado-based goat cheese manufacturer, and you will find information about fancy chèvre and other tasty products. The “Our People” section includes profiles on cheesemaker Jackie Chang and other staffers at the 25-year-old company. The site also mentions their incarcerated workers – Colorado prisoners at the Skyline Correctional Center who start out at $.66 a day, milking about 1,000 goats.

Haystack is one of a growing number of businesses that benefit from contracting with corrections departments across the country for cheap prison labor. Whereas almost all prison industry programs once produced products and provided services for government use, agencies like Colorado Corrections Industries (CCI) now make prison labor available to private-sector companies.

Prisoners produce apple juice, honey, custom fishing rods, fancy redwood canoes and even specialty motorcycles. They raise tilapia, milk cows and goats, grow flowers, tame horses and manage vineyards. Nationwide, prison labor is used to produce more than $2 billion worth of products each year in both public and private industry programs.

CCI employs some 1,600 prisoners at 17 facilities, generating around $65 million in annual sales. Haystack Mountain is just one of many small- to mid-sized businesses that benefit ...

Tennessee Enacts Contrary “Ban the Box” Bills

On March 14, 2016, the Tennessee legislature passed a bill to eliminate a question on state government job applications that asks about an applicant’s criminal history. The measure, commonly called “Ban the Box,” was signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam on April 14.

The move to help applicants seeking state job positions includes exceptions that would allow the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Department of Education and Board of Education to retain questions about criminal records on job applications. Under most Ban the Box policies, such questions can be asked later in the hiring process, too – just not on initial applications.

Elsewhere in Tennessee, local governments have enacted Ban the Box policies that predate the statewide action. The Metro Nashville government’s Civil Service Commission adopted a similar policy in November 2015, which exempts police, fire, emergency management and school positions. The City of Memphis and Hamilton County have also adopted Ban the Box measures.

However, the Tennessee legislature passed a separate bill in March 2016 that prohibits local governments from “prohibiting a private employer from requesting certain information on an application for employment or during the process of hiring a new employee.” That anti-Ban the Box legislation ...

Breaking News: 18 Deaths in Six Months at Mississippi State Penitentiary

Prison Legal News has learned through a public records request that 18 prisoners died at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman in just over a six-month period. The most recent reported death was that of Terry Echols, who passed away in May 2016 due to complications related to morbid obesity, according to prison officials.

Echols’ death was the latest in a long string of fatalities at a facility already under scrutiny not only by PLN but also the Clarion-Ledger, which reported that “Mississippi had the country’s number one prison mortality rate in 2007 with 454 deaths for every 100,000 prisoners ... [and] eighth overall ... between 2001 and 2011,” based on data from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Of the 18 deaths at Parchman that occurred between November 10, 2015 and May 23, 2016, five involved medical issues, one was a suicide and one prisoner was murdered. The causes of the other 11 deaths were listed as “pending” by prison officials, including the deaths of prisoners Jeffrey Alan Davis on April 1 and Albert Lee Thomas, Jr. on April 19, 2016. DOC spokeswoman Grace Fisher said the cause of death remains pending until a report ...

Ohio Prison Guards Cited for Sexual Misconduct with Prisoners

Several Ohio state prison guards have been disciplined following at least 19 allegations of sexual misconduct and inappropriate relationships with female prisoners between 2012 and 2013. Most of the allegations arose shortly after the Dayton Correctional Institution (DCI) switched from a male-only to an all-female prison in 2012, but ongoing problems were cited as of last year.

Investigators with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said they had evidence that confirmed at least seven cases of sexual misconduct, including love letters between guards and prisoners, DNA evidence from semen-stained rags and recorded conversations that resulted in employees being fired, transferred or allowed to resign.

According to Joanna Saul, executive director of the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, the state’s non-partisan watchdog agency, “Staff are there, paid, to provide for the security of the inmates, certainly not to be involved with the relationship of an inmate, which, is in itself, a criminal offense. These women come into the system from a background of abuse and trauma and now we’re placing them in another situation of people taking advantage of them.”

The union that represents state prison guards blamed the allegations of sexual misconduct on “poor training,” especially in regard ...

Florida Drug Court Judge’s Relapse Results in Removal from Bench

In an ironic twist, a Florida drug court judge was removed from the bench after enrolling in a substance abuse treatment program herself.

In December 2013, Broward County Judge Gisele Pollack, 57, took a two-week leave to participate in a substance abuse program after admitting to consuming alcohol before work. The inebriated judge had threatened to fire her staff for preventing her from entering the courtroom; another judge was forced to intervene and send her home.

Only a few months after Pollack completed the treatment program, a prosecutor informed Administrative Judge Sharon Zeller that Pollack’s speech was slurred during a court proceeding. Pollack was removed from the bench on March 19, 2014; she immediately took personal leave and again checked herself into an outpatient rehab center.

According to Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, also a recovering addict, the first time someone enters a substance abuse program the duration is 28 days.

“But when you relapse, it is usually longer. Because you have two different relapses and you’re dealing with a professional person – a person with a lot of power – the long term treatment can be six months,” he said. “She’s going to be in a long term ...

Supreme Court Allows Prisoner’s § 1983 Action after Dismissal of Federal Tort Claim

In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held on June 6, 2016 that a federal prisoner, Walter J. Himmelreich, could file a § 1983 federal civil rights complaint after the dismissal of his Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) claim, under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2674. An FTCA suit allows a party to sue and hold liable the United States, provided certain procedural requirements are met. [See: PLN, March 2014, p.44].

Himmelreich, who was convicted of a sex crime, alleged in his first complaint that another prisoner, who had told prison officials that he would “smash” any pedophile he encountered, beat him severely due to the negligence of prison staff in failing to protect him. The district court construed the complaint as an FTCA action, and later granted the federal government’s motion to dismiss on the grounds that “the claim fell into one of the ‘Exceptions’ to the FTCA for ‘[a]ny claim based upon ... the exercise or performance ... [of] a discretionary function,’ namely, deciding where to house inmates.”However, before his FTCA claim was dismissed Himmelreich filed a § 1983 civil rights action, this time naming the individual prison employees as defendants ...

A Deadly Dust is Plaguing Hawaii Prisoners in Arizona

Valley fever is widespread in the Southwest, yet Hawaii prison officials haven’t paid much attention to it, despite the recent deaths of at least two prisoners who had the disease.

by Rui Kaneya, Civil Beat

In the spring of 2014, Melvin Wright was among a crew of prisoners who manned the morning shift in the dining hall at the Saguaro Correctional Center, an Arizona prison where about 1,400 Hawaii prisoners are housed.

Wright, convicted of attempted murder, worked as a baker, responsible for preparing cookies for fellow prisoners every morning. But, one day, he stopped showing up for work.

Worried, Matthew Murphy, who shared the morning shift, went to check up on him. He found Wright wrapped up “in a cocoon of four blankets” in his cell, trying to fight off a fever.

Murphy’s instinct was to get away from Wright before he got sick himself. But he later realized that Wright wasn’t eating at all; he was too weak to make it to the dining hall on his own.

Murphy took pity on Wright and began helping him walk down the hallway, a task that he took upon himself three times a day.

“It became obvious to me, if ...

Overcrowding at South Dakota Prison Impacts Family Visitation Program

A surge in female prisoners incarcerated on low-level drug charges led to the temporary shutdown of a program at the South Dakota Women’s Prison that helps prisoners maintain family ties and relationships. The Parent and Children Together (P.A.C.T.) program provides extended visitation for imprisoned mothers and their children. P.A.C.T. allows minor children to stay with their mothers in prison for a weekend visit once a month, in addition to regular visitation hours. Prisoners pay $5 per child for each program visit.

According to Kevin Kroger, whose wife, Nicole, is a P.A.C.T. participant, the Kroger family has met at the family-style P.A.C.T. house eight times in just over a year, but received notice that their next scheduled visit had been cancelled. Kroger said the visits were especially important for their three-year-old son, who has Down Syndrome. The family visits allow them to do normal activities, like bathing their son and reading bedtime stories together. “The kids are disappointed, as we look forward to it,” Kroger said. “It’s the closest our family can get for the time being.”

SD DOC Secretary Denny Kaemingk said on March 1, 2016 ...

Defendants Claim Sexual Abuse by Arkansas Judge

Three alleged victims of an Arkansas judge filed a lawsuit in May 2016, claiming that Cross County District Court Judge Joseph Boeckmann had sexually abused them. Attorney Gary Green said on May 11, 2016 that a fourth man had joined the suit as a plaintiff against Boeckmann, who resigned earlier in the month after authorities discovered nearly 4,500 photographs of nude men on his computer, including many who had appeared as defendants in his courtroom.

Some of the photos depicted naked young men bending over after apparently having been paddled at Boeckmann’s home and in his yard, reportedly as an “alternative sentence” for minor violations.

The state’s Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission detailed the allegations of several of the defendants, including one who was under 18 at the time, who claimed the judge approached them after their court hearings to take the explicit photos as part of a “community service” sentence or in exchange for payments. One man described having a “sexual relationship” with the judge; the Commission’s investigation uncovered witnesses who testified they had been victimized by Boeckmann decades earlier.

The judge’s resignation letter stipulated that he would leave the bench immediately and would never again seek a ...

Cities Re-evaluating Housing Bans for Former Prisoners

In the 1990s, high crime rates in public housing – especially the infamous “projects” – led many cities to adopt a one-strike policy that banned anyone with a felony conviction from public housing. Now, with declining crime rates and the demolition of many massive housing projects, some cities are re-evaluating the ban with an eye toward reducing recidivism.

Although no studies have been conducted comparing recidivism rates before and after cities enacted public housing bans, a correlation between homelessness and recidivism is believed to exist. Accordingly, some advocates are calling for a repeal of policies that bar former prisoners from public housing. The urgency of this task is spurred by the high rate of homelessness among ex-offenders – 22% for New York prisoners, according to state prison officials – and the high rate of recidivism – about 68% of prisoners are rearrested within three years of release, according to a federal study that tracked 405,000 prisoners in 30 states.

New Orleans already has a policy stating that a prior conviction will not automatically disqualify a person from public housing. New York City and Los Angeles are testing programs that allow some former prisoners to move in with family members ...

The End of Prison Visitation

by Jack Smith IV, Mic

A new system called “video visitation” is replacing in-person jail visits with glitchy, expensive Skype-like video calls. It’s inhumane, dystopian and actually increases in-prison violence – but god, it makes money.

Losing Connection

The only way Lauren Johnson could see Ashika Renae Coleman at the Travis County Correctional Complex in Del Valle, Texas was via video conference from seven miles away in Austin.

Coleman and Johnson had met in 2012 in a rehabilitation program that tries to build trust and community among incarcerated women through theater. Both had been to prison for drug-related offenses.

Johnson got out in 2011. She became an activist helping former prisoners like herself re-enter society. Coleman had similarly altruistic ambitions when she was released, and planned to create a sober house for the formerly incarcerated. But after returning to a husband still suffering from addiction, she relapsed and ended up back in Travis County.

Johnson logged into the Securus Technologies website – a Skype-like communication system used by the Travis County jail – on her PC laptop. But the video player didn’t have the latest version of Java. When Johnson installed it, the system insisted she had not. So Johnson tried ...

California Jail Ordered to Restore Attorney-Client Contact Visits

The Wayne Brown Correctional Facility in Nevada County, California changed its rules in 2013 to prohibit defense attorneys from having contact visits with their clients, allegedly due to security and cost concerns. Several prisoners filed suit, and a superior court ruled against the county and reinstated the contact visits. The Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District subsequently affirmed the superior court’s judgment.

The jail commander of the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility, citing safety and security issues, had required that defense attorneys meet with their incarcerated clients in visiting rooms with glass partitions. They had to speak to each other through telephone handsets and could only exchange documents through a small metal slot. The attorneys complained that it was difficult to take notes and review documents while holding the phone, and that to communicate without the phone required shouting, which compromised attorney-client confidentiality.

Jail officials did not ban attorney contact visits outright, but required all such visits to be approved by the on duty supervisor. They claimed the jail’s population had increased and staffing had been reduced. According to the appellate court, in “the first three months after [the policy went into effect], special permission was given for nonpartitioned ...

Multiple Suicides at Florida Jail a Cause for Concern

Suicide is the leading cause of death among jail detainees according to an August 2015 report by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. While 80% of jails in the U.S. reported no deaths in 2013, six percent reported two or more. Florida’s Alachua County Jail (ACJ) fell into the latter category in both 2013 and 2015.

More than 12,875 people were booked into the ACJ in 2013, and of those 169 were placed in observation cells for suicide prevention after intake screenings. Nineteen attempted suicide, stated Art Forgey, a spokesman for the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office. That was more than twice the suicide attempts at the jail the year before.

A number of factors contribute to jails having high suicide rates. “They [the detainees] have no idea how long they’re going to be there, and they’re not sure they could bond out the next day or stay the entire length of their proceedings,” said Lindsay M. Hayes, project director of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives. “The inmates are separated from their families. It’s a lot of anxiety and stress.”

Dealing with suicidal prisoners can be challenging. “People who want to kill themselves are ...

Wisconsin Prisoner’s Civil Rights Action Alleging Verbal Harassment Reinstated

Ronald J. Beal, a Wisconsin state prisoner, filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his civil rights by Department of Corrections (DOC) staff who had subjected him to verbal harassment. After his complaint was dismissed by a magistrate judge during the initial screening process, Beal appealed. The Seventh Circuit reversed on October 2, 2015 and remanded the case for further proceedings.

According to the Court of Appeals, the “magistrate judge stated that ‘standing alone, verbal harassment of an inmate does not constitute a constitutional violation.’” That, the appellate court said, was incorrect. Even if harassment by prison staff is “purely verbal,” it can still be “as cruel ... as in cases of physical brutalization of prisoners by guards.”

Beal claimed that DOC sergeant Russell Schneider had “made verbal sexual comments directed towards inmate Brian Anthony, telling Ronald Beal to place his penis inside Brian Anthony.” Schneider also urinated on several occasions in front of Beal and other prisoners, “while smiling.” Those allegations led the appellate court to distinguish its prior decision in DeWalt v. Carter, 224 F.3d 607 (7th Cir. 2000), which held that “standing alone, simple verbal harassment ...

Demonstrators Protest Gates Foundation’s $2.2 Million Investment in GEO Group

About two dozen immigrants’ rights advocates picketed outside the headquarters of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle on April 10, 2014, protesting the Foundation’s investments in the GEO Group, the second-largest private prison company in the U.S.

The demonstrators urged the Gates Foundation – whose co-chairman, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, has publicly supported immigrants’ rights and immigration reform – to dump the $2.2 million it has invested in the Florida-based GEO Group, which operates 64 prisons and immigration detention facilities nationwide, including the 1,500-bed Northwest Detention Center in nearby Tacoma, Washington.

“This isn’t just a moral argument,” William Winters, a protest organizer, told the Seattle Times. “If the Gates Foundation wants to have the effect in the world they say they want to have, then investing in private prisons is the antithesis of that.”

The Foundation’s website proclaims that “all lives have equal value” and “we are impatient optimists working to reduce inequity.” The charity is best known for its grants that fund projects related to poverty, education and health care worldwide.

The protestors presented almost 11,000 signatures collected online asking the Gates Foundation to stop investing in GEO, and Foundation ...

Seventh Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Federal Prisoner’s Bivens Suit Over Medical Care

Ryan K. Mathison, incarcerated at FCI Pekin, a federal prison near Peoria, Illinois, suffered from high blood pressure. One morning he awoke at 3 a.m. with a sharp pain in his chest; he summoned a guard, who called a lieutenant, who in turn contacted the duty nurse. Although the lieutenant said he thought Mathison was suffering a heart attack, without examining him the nurse concluded he was not.

Four hours after first experiencing chest pains, Mathison was taken to the prison infirmary, where he was examined and immediately sent to a local hospital. The hospital staff diagnosed his condition as a heart attack, installed a stent and kept him for observation for two days, after which he was returned to the prison.

Mathison then filed a Bivens action against the guard, the lieutenant, and the prison nurse and physician, alleging they had been deliberately indifferent to his life-threatening medical condition. The district court granted summary judgment to all the defendants, holding that a prisoner was not entitled to the same level of medical care as a non-prisoner.

Mathison appealed and the Seventh Circuit rejected the lower court’s reasoning, reinstating his lawsuit against the nurse and supervising lieutenant but affirming ...

Indiana ACLU Announces Settlement to Help Mentally Ill Prisoners

In 2008, long before the issue became a focus of national attention, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana filed a federal civil rights suit against the Indiana Department of Correction (DOC), challenging inadequate treatment of mentally ill prisoners. After years of litigation, the ACLU won a significant settlement in the class-action case that will improve mental health care for Indiana state prisoners.

The ACLU had alleged that “The Indiana Department of Correction provides insufficient programs and placements to treat these prisoners and many are confined in segregation or excessively isolated [in] harsh conditions which exacerbate their illnesses and conditions where they fail to receive adequate mental health care.” The ACLU stated that such practices were violative of the Eighth Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12132 and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794.

Eight years of litigation ensued, with the DOC trying and failing to have the lawsuit dismissed. As noted by the ACLU in a recent press release, “Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana ruled that the DOC, which had been placing seriously mentally ill prisoners in isolation ...

Second Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Bivens Suit Due to Continuing Violation Doctrine

Esteban Gonzalez, while incarcerated at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Manhattan and the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, was confined to the Special Housing Unit (SHU) for stabbing another prisoner “with a knife-like object.” After being held in the SHU at both facilities for “an extended period of time,” and after exhausting his administrative remedies, Gonzalez sued alleging violations of his First, Fifth and Eighth Amendment rights.

Gonzalez filed his lawsuit pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), arguing that he was placed in segregation “without procedural protections, and in retaliation for protected speech.” His complaint was dismissed because the claims had occurred outside the applicable statute of limitations.

On appeal, the Second Circuit concluded “that the district court correctly applied the three-year statute of limitations to Gonzalez’s First Amendment claim, but that it erred in holding that his Fifth and Eighth Amendment claims are time-barred in their entirety.”

Gonzalez was confined in the MCC’s SHU for more than two years, from February 28, 1999 to July 24, 2001. At that time, the warden in charge was Dennis Hasty. Gonzalez was then transferred ...

Indiana Prisoner Dies after Cell Extraction

In 2012, Pendleton Correctional Facility prisoner Justin Addler was one of 40 people charged in connection with a cell phone smuggling ring at three Indiana prisons. The phones were used to arrange sales of methamphetamine, heroin and LSD outside the facilities. [See: PLN, Dec 2012, p.50].

Addler, 32, died on May 16, 2016 after a confrontation with guards when he barricaded himself inside his cell with some type of weapon. Addler had voluntarily submitted to restraints, then was taken to the medical unit for treatment of “unspecified injuries” suffered during the cell extraction. He died shortly afterwards. Latex gloves containing unknown contraband were found inside Addler’s rectum and turned over to the state police for testing. Michelle Rains, Pendleton’s public information officer, said the facility was placed on lockdown pending an investigation.

Madison County Coroner Marian Dunnichay conducted an autopsy which revealed no medical reason for Addler’s death. Dunnichay said she would not release a final coroner’s ruling until toxicology reports were complete, but noted the cuts and bruises found on Addler’s body were consistent with prison staff’s account of the cell extraction.


Connecticut Prisoner Wins Motion for Sanctions over Destruction of Evidence; Case Settles for $40,000

Connecticut state prisoner Tye Thomas won an important pretrial motion that found employees of the Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC) were “grossly negligent” in failing to preserve key video surveillance footage of assaults he suffered on the recreation yard and in cells at the Northern Correctional Institution. On April 29, 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall ruled in Thomas’ favor on a motion for sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(e).

Thomas alleged in his federal civil rights suit that the defendants had forced him “to remain in the Security Risk Group Unit (“SRG Unit”) for inmates affiliated with the Bloods gang notwithstanding the fact that the defendants were aware that Thomas had switched his allegiance to the rival Crips gang.”

Unfortunately for both Thomas and the DOC defendants, he was assaulted six times in 2012, which were memorialized in six separate incident reports. Thomas’ pro se suit plodded on for two years before the court appointed pro bono counsel, who sought video evidence from the prison’s surveillance camera system. DOC staff, however, had failed to maintain all of the video evidence. Although its written policy stated that such video footage was to be preserved ...

Contaminated Sites and Prisons in New Jersey

When journalist Raven Rakia embarked on an investigation of “the Superfund State” of New Jersey, she found another layer to the environmental justice disaster that sits just south of New York City. While New Jersey leads the nation in federally-designated Superfund sites, with 113 listed for pending clean-up, there are an additional 14,000 contaminated sites in the state.

According to data collected by WNYC (New York Public Radio), 89 percent of New Jersey residents live within a mile of such sites. Specifically, 74 percent of state residents with incomes below the poverty line reside within a mile of a contaminated site with no plan in place to clean up the contamination, compared to half of residents who are not below the poverty line. In addition, 79 percent of New Jersey’s Hispanic population and 75 percent of its black population live within a mile of a toxic site with no clean-up plan, compared to 42 percent of white residents.

But that says nothing about the state’s prison population, which generally flies under the radar of most demographic data. So Rakia overlaid the WNYC’s contaminated site map with the state’s prison locations.

“I expected to find at least a couple prisons within a ...

Mississippi DOC Guard Trainee Busted for Smuggling Contraband

Sherrice Richardson, a guard trainee at the South Mississippi Correctional Institution, was arrested on January 25, 2016 and charged for her role in a major contraband smuggling ring at the facility. Richardson, 22, admitted to prison officials that she had been paid about $700 by prisoners’ relatives to bring contraband cell phones, tobacco and other items with her when she reported to work. She was immediately terminated.

Regina Mason, 43, Demetrice Taylor, 44, and Rushia Keyes, 32, were also charged in connection with the contraband scheme. The women, who are family members of prisoners, face charges of conspiracy to introduce contraband. They were released on bond. Sean K. Smith, chief investigator for the MDOC, said, “The inmate leading this operation has not been charged, but he as well as two other inmates will face felony charges. Also, we expect to make more civilian arrests as a result of the details provided by the suspects.”

Following a raid on a storage unit targeted by the investigation, authorities found synthetic marijuana, bundles of tobacco, 126 cell phone chargers, four cell phone batteries and an assortment of other items, such as scissors, SIM cards and electric speaker wire. The storage unit also ...

Dallas Conviction Integrity Unit Gains National Notoriety

The word “first” was applied to Craig M. Watkins multiple times after his election to the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office in 2006. He was the county’s first black D.A., the first D.A. who had been a public defender before being elected prosecutor and the first D.A. to establish a Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) in Dallas.

The CIU turned the culture at the prosecutors’ office on its head. Previously, convictions were to be had at all costs and defended to the end. Henry Wade, one of Watkins’ predecessors, was famously quoted as having said that it was easy to convict a guilty man; it was the innocent ones who were a bit more difficult. That reflected a culture where the only thing that mattered was winning a conviction, not the guilt or innocence of the defendant.

The culture changed when Watkins set up the CIU. Due to the “save it all” policy at the Southwest Institute for Forensic Sciences, Dallas County was sitting on a mound of forensic evidence from past cases. So the CIU began an internal audit of the over 400 cases in which a prisoner had requested DNA testing.

“There was an unspoken desire ...

DC Prisoner Awarded $70,000 for ADA Violations at CCA-run Jail

William Pierce, a prisoner held by the District of Columbia’s Department of Corrections (DCDOC), has won a $70,000 jury verdict for repeated violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Pierce, who suffers from severe hearing loss, was denied hearing aids and sign-language interpreters while he was held at the Correctional Treatment Facility, a jail managed by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

Pierce’s complaint alleged that although CCA and the DCDOC had policies in place which, on their face, complied with the requirements of the ADA, in practice those policies were not followed. U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, in a lengthy September 11, 2015 order, wrote that officials at the Correctional Treatment Facility “effectively sat on their hands.... This court easily concludes that the District’s willful blindness regarding [Pierce’s] need for accommodation and its half-hearted attempt to provide Pierce with a random assortment of auxiliary aids – and only after he specifically requested them – fell far short of what the law requires.”

An amicus brief was filed on Pierce’s behalf by the National Association for the Deaf, which argued that prisoners are also protected by the provisions of the ADA. Many prisoners’ rights advocates ...

Florida Courthouse Employees Commit Crimes with “Alarming Regularity”

A local news station reported on March 29, 2016 that Joseph Safonte, 72, was placed on desk duty after becoming the target of an internal investigation into the theft of items from the lost and found at the courthouse in Broward County, Florida.

The veteran bailiff and president of the Broward Sheriff’s Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police was one of three people sanctioned during the investigation. Lisa Bouley, a civilian sheriff’s community service aide, also was assigned to desk duty. According to sources, a third person – an unnamed guard employed by private security contractor G4S – was terminated. The State’s Attorney’s office is reportedly reviewing the cases for possible criminal charges.

In the past year, two other former Broward County bailiffs received prison time. Garrett Cunningham was sentenced to 20 years following an incident in which he terrorized his wife, while Brian Preston received eight years for child pornography. In a separate incident in March 2016, bailiff Kendrick Busby was suspended without pay and jailed after being charged with the rape and attempted murder of a prostitute. Yet another Broward County bailiff, Steve Palacios, awaits trial for a felony charge of dealing in stolen property.

“It seems ...

Illinois Sheriff Demotes One, Fires 3, Suspends 10 after Death of Jail Detainee

Lake County, Illinois Sheriff Mark C. Curran, Jr. demoted a jail supervisor and suspended ten guards over an incident in which a prisoner was paralyzed after an altercation with jailers and later died. Three other guards were fired. Curran took the disciplinary actions after an almost $2 million settlement in a lawsuit filed by the prisoner’s family.

Eugene Gruber, 51, had been arrested for disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing, and was intoxicated when he was booked into the Lake County jail on October 31, 2011. Official reports said that he was aggressive and uncooperative with guards. After being pepper-sprayed and allowed to shower to wash his eyes, he resisted changing into a jail uniform. He was then wrestled to the ground in a “takedown” hold by multiple jailers, which broke a vertebra in his neck and left him partially paralyzed.

The guards concluded he was not seriously injured; they propped him up for a mug shot, then dragged him to a cell where he received no medical attention for over 15 hours. A shift supervisor who came on duty the following morning finally had a nurse examine Gruber.

The nurse initially misdiagnosed his paralysis, accusing him of “faking.” Eventually ...

Dekalb County Settles Lawsuit, Ends Debtors’ Prisons

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union reached a settlement that will end debtors’ prisons in Dekalb County, Georgia. The settlement is the latest in a string of lawsuits challenging contracts involving for-profit probation company Judicial Correction Services (JCS). [See: PLN, Jan. 2014, p.18].

The suit, filed in January 2015, stated that Kevin Thompson, a teenager, was jailed for five days on December 8, 2014 because he could not afford to pay $838 in fines and fees for a traffic ticket. During a court hearing on his probation revocation, Thompson was not informed of his right to request court-appointed counsel, was not provided counsel and was not afforded a pre-deprivation indigency hearing prior to being jailed.

The settlement in the case provides for a $70,000 payment to compensate Thompson for damages and for attorney fees payable to the ACLU. It also requires several changes in the administration of proceedings for failure to pay fines or fees in Dekalb County Recorders Court. Those changes include: 1) Adoption of a “bench card” that provides instructions to judges on how to protect defendants’ right to counsel, how to avoid sending people to jail and how to seek alternatives to jail for ...

Study Shows Modest Decline in Prison Populations

A February 2016 study by The Sentencing Project, “U.S. Prison Population Trends 1999-2014: Broad Variation Among States in Recent Years,” found there has been a 2.9% average decline in the number of state prisoners during that period. Over those 15 years, 39 states experienced declines and 11 had increases in their prison populations.

According to the report, “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. These 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 decline in prison populations included New Jersey at 31.4%, followed by New York at 28.1%, Rhode Island at 25.5% and California at 21.8%. Some states, like New Jersey and New York, reached their peak incarceration levels in 1999, while others, such as Ohio and Oregon, peaked as recently as 2013. The federal Bureau of Prisons reported a 2.9% decrease since 2011.

Despite the trend of declining prison populations, some states – ...

Crowdfunding Projects Present Opportunities for Prisoners

Kickstarter and other crowdfunding websites provide an interesting option for prisoners with imagination and originality to explore career-expanding opportunities, raise money and gain access to a commodity often in short supply behind bars – hope.

Basically, crowdfunding involves developing online campaigns for specific projects, charitable causes or services, or to develop certain products. People who want to support a campaign can donate funds, from as little as $1 to as much as they want. Hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of people may join together to support and fund a campaign, and once the project achieves its target funding amount the money is paid to the campaign organizer so they can make the project a reality.

Kickstarter, founded in 2009, is a popular crowdfunding site that specializes in entrepreneurial campaigns with an artistic focus, while other sites like GoFundMe, IndieGoGo, Fundly and RocketHub are more flexible. Some sites allow campaigns for legal defense expenses, bail money and prison ministries. Almost all of these services charge fees ranging from around 4 to 9 percent of the money collected during the campaign; some are all-or-nothing, meaning the entire amount of the project must be funded or the campaign is cancelled. Donors ...

OIG Study: Bureau of Prisons Held Thousands of Prisoners Beyond Release Dates

The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), pilloried by one Congressional study that found it was unable to follow its own compassionate release policy, and by yet another criticizing endemic overcrowding, has again been called to task for failing to release prisoners at the conclusion of their sentences. The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found 4,300 federal prisoners were kept beyond their release dates from late 2009 to 2014.

According to the study, most prisoners were held for at least an additional month, but one, Jermaine Hickman, remained in custody for an extra 13 months. Hickman received a $175,000 settlement in 2014 for the sentence computation error.

“That’s lost time I’ll never get back, lost time with my kids and family, lost time that they never get back, as well,” he said.

Untimely releases were more common when each BOP institution did its own sentence computations, and decreased after the process was consolidated at the BOP’s Designation and Sentence Computation Center (DSCC) in Grand Prairie, Texas.

According to the study, the BOP claimed “that the vast majority of non-staff error ‘untimely’ releases were due to situations that are beyond its control, such as amended sentences ...

Medical Statistical Model Used to Estimate Wrongful Conviction Rate in Death Penalty Cases

An interesting collaboration between medical and law professionals, under the leadership of University of Michigan Law School professor Samuel R. Gross, led to the application of medical statistical analysis to exonerations of death-sentenced prisoners, in order to estimate the number of innocent defendants who receive the death penalty. The report, published in April 2014 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the nation’s most prestigious scientific journal, estimated the rate of wrongful capital convictions at 4.1%, or 1 in 25. The 95% confidence level of the study was 2.8 to 5.2%. This was the first report to use “solid and appropriate statistical methods” to estimate the error rate in capital convictions.

Death penalty cases were studied because they are unique among criminal prosecutions, in that they receive more serious scrutiny at every step of the process from initial crime scene investigation to execution. Death-sentenced prisoners usually have the assistance of attorneys until the execution is carried out. Presumably, jurors take their task more seriously in capital cases, and judges apply greater scrutiny when a person’s life is at stake.

This additional scrutiny means the rate of exonerations of death-sentenced prisoners may be close to the ...

Canadian Prison Staff, Cellmate Charged in Prisoner’s Beating Death

An understaffed, poorly-designed prison in Ontario, Canada has been under close scrutiny over the past three years after a prisoner serving a 165-day sentence was bludgeoned to death on Halloween night by a possibly intoxicated cellmate with a history of violent attacks on other prisoners.

Adam Kargus, 29, was two weeks into his sentence for petty fraud at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC) when investigators said he was fatally beaten by Anthony M. George, 28, on October 31, 2013.

After killing him, George allegedly wrapped Kargus in bed sheets and dragged his bloody body to the showers where guards found him the next morning.

George, who had reportedly beaten two prisoners at a jail in the nearby town of Sarnia in 2009, and was convicted in 2012 of attacking a man with brass knuckles during a home invasion, has since been charged with second-degree murder in Kargus’ death.

“I’ve been saying publicly for the last couple of years that someone is going to die if they don’t correct the situation. It is not a time when I am happy to be right,” said Kevin Egan, an attorney who represents both Kargus’ family and more than 100 former and current ...

Courts Divided on Confidentiality of Attorney-Prisoner Email

The fact that prosecutors and corrections officials read emails between prisoners and their lawyers comes as no surprise to most defense attorneys, many of whom find it ironic that the very public officials paid to enforce the laws do not hesitate to disregard long-established professional confidentiality standards when it suits them. The fact that many local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), routinely monitor prisoners’ communications with their attorneys has come under increased scrutiny and criticism by judges and legal experts.

According to Ellen C. Yaroshefsky, a professor of law at the Cardozo School of Law, “it’s very troubling that the government’s pushing to the margins of the attorney-client relationship.”

Even federal judges disagree on the application of the attorney-client confidentiality doctrine in a prison setting. In Hawaii, U.S. District Court Judge Leslie E. Kobayashi found that treating electronic correspondence any differently than written mail made “no sense,” but reluctantly ruled in favor of the BOP since the prisoner-plaintiffs had waived their attorney-client privilege when using the prison’s email system. See: Arciero v. Holder, U.S.D.C. (D. Hawaii), Case No. 1:14-cv-00506-LEK-BMK (Sept. 30, 2015).

Federal prisoners who ...

Pfizer Deals Blow to Lethal Injections

Pfizer, Inc., the world’s second-largest pharmaceutical manufacturer, recently announced new restrictions on the distribution of drugs used to execute prisoners.

The May 13, 2016 announcement detailed “distribution restrictions” that the company is placing on certain drugs used in lethal injection protocols, including pancuronium bromide, potassium chloride, propofol, midazolam, hydromorphone, rocuronium bromide and vecuronium bromide. According to Pfizer’s statement, the new restrictions will limit the sale of those drugs to “a select group of wholesalers, distributors, and direct purchasers under the condition that they will not resell these products to correctional institutions for use in lethal injections.”

Opponents of the death penalty applauded Pfizer for restricting access to the execution drugs, noting that the company’s move, in conjunction with other efforts to limit access to lethal injection drugs, may force states to reconsider their use of capital punishment.

“I think it will have the effect of encouraging states to rethink their policies,” said Robert Dunham, director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “The lethal injection debate is causing legislators to rethink the death penalty as a whole. Some states may move to other methods, but they face significant problems because the majority of Americans believe each of the alternatives ...

Private Prison Execs Continue to Make Much More than Guards

Information collected by the federal government has revealed the conspicuous inequality between private prison executives and the guards that their corporations employ. According to data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for private prison and jail guards in 2015 was $32,290. One in four private prison guards makes less than $26,091 annually – near the poverty line for a family of four.

By sharp contrast, based on filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) Chief Executive Officer Damon Hininger received a base salary of $882,807 in 2015, which was augmented by $2.52 million in other compensation, such as bonuses and stock awards. That same year, George Zoley, CEO of the GEO Group, the nation’s second-largest private prison firm, received a $1,000,000 base salary with additional compensation of $5.6 million.

Examining the income of those two CEOs in comparison to wages paid to private prison guards between 2011 and 2015, In the Public Interest, a public policy research organization that opposes privatization, found the median hourly rate for guards ranged between $15.53 and $16.47 per hour. In stark disparity, Zoley ...

Pennsylvania: Woman Dies in Jail While Serving Sentence for Truancy Fines and Court Costs

A 55-year-old mother of seven died in a Pennsylvania jail cell on June 7, 2014 while serving a 48-hour sentence for failure to pay truancy fines and court costs that totaled about $2,000.

Eileen DiNino was jailed by Berks County District Judge Dean Patton for debts that had been accruing since 1999. The truancy violations caused by her children missing school were numerous, each resulting in up to a $75 fine, but DiNino’s debt increased as a laundry list of court costs began to add up. In one case, for example, she was billed $8.00 for a “judicial computer project,” $60.00 for county constables and $10.00 for postage.

“The woman didn’t have any money,” said Diana Sealy, whose son married DiNino’s daughter. “Years ago, I tried to help her out. She had all these kids.”

Judge Patton referred to DiNino as a “lost soul,” and said it was only reluctantly that he sent her to jail. He noted that a short stint behind bars can sometimes “break the habit” of parents who’d rather party into the night and not get their kids to school the next day. The judge added that he ...

Seventh Circuit Affirms Prison Policy Banning Adult Magazines, with Caveats

Tobias Payton, a prisoner at the Stateville Correctional Center in Illinois, was denied access to a number of adult magazines depicting naked or scantily clad women, and filed suit in federal court alleging violation of his First Amendment rights. Those rights, he argued, included “access to, as well as creation and dissemination of, oral and written communication, including magazines.”

The district court agreed with Stateville’s policy banning adult magazines and granted summary judgment to the defendants, citing a former warden’s statement that such publications constitute a possible threat to institutional security.

Payton appealed the censorship of the magazines, which included Bootylicious, Black Video Illustrated, Players Nasty, Black Tail, Adam Film World Guide Porn Stars, Tight and Naughty Neighbors.

The former warden, Marcus Hardy, named as a defendant in the lawsuit, had advanced several justifications for the policy, including his belief that “(1) the inmates will engage in black-market trading for the publications and photographs; (2) inmate-on-inmate violence and intimidation increases, especially when these publications become lost, stolen, and/or when there is a perception that the publications are not being fairly traded or shared; and (3) female employees ... are more often objectified and harassed....”

On December 1 ...

Georgia: Federal Court Finds Bond System Unfair to Indigent Defendants, Enters Injunction

Maurice Walker, 54, was arrested in the City of Calhoun, Georgia for public intoxication in September 2015, and told that if he posted a $160 bond he could go free until his first court date. Unfortunately Walker was indigent, living on a small fixed income and could not afford to pay the bond; consequently, he had to spend two weeks in jail. He filed a § 1983 civil rights suit in federal court that alleged Fourteenth Amendment due process violations and requested both preliminary and permanent injunctive relief. After extensive litigation, the court ordered the city to modify its bond system.

In his lawsuit, later certified as a class-action, Walker challenged “the use of fixed amounts of secured money bail that results in the detention of only the poorest of those arrested for petty offenses.” He sought “a declaration that [such] conduct is unlawful, and injunctive relief assuring that his rights and the rights of the other class members will not continue to be violated.”

Walker also alleged that the city had a policy and practice of refusing “to release traffic and misdemeanor arrestees from jail unless they pay a generically set bond amount,” which varied by ...

Amnesty International: Sudanese Prisoners Housed in Shipping Containers

On May 27, 2016, Amnesty International reported that the South Sudan was using repurposed shipping containers to house prisoners at a detention site in Gorom. Amnesty’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, Muthoni Wanyeki, warned that detainees were ” suffering in appalling conditions and their overall treatment is nothing short of torture.”

The human rights organization said the prisoners were fed sparingly – only once or twice a week – and not given enough clean drinking water. Further, the shipping containers were poorly ventilated; in October 2015, more than 50 people died from asphyxiation after being locked inside one of the makeshift cells.

Amnesty International was able to obtain evidence of the horrific conditions after procuring a satellite image of the site which showed four shipping containers surrounded by two fences. The organization said most of the detainees were civilians accused of having ties to a rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO). While the prisoners were not charged with any crimes, they had no access to visitors, including family members or attorneys.

“All detainees should be released or charged and brought before independent courts. Civilian detainees should only be ...

News in Brief

Alabama: Federal and state officials raided the Sumter County Jail on March 8, 2016 as part of an investigation into the Sumter County Sheriff’s Department. The search led a grand jury to recommend the impeachment of Sheriff Tyrone Clark and issue an indictment against him the next month. A report issued by the grand jury accused Clark of willfully failing to prevent contraband in the jail, allowing prisoners access to firearms and using prisoner labor at his own residence as well as in paid positions elsewhere, from which he withheld a portion of their pay. The report also detailed Clark’s attempt to coerce a female employee to have sex with him. The sheriff is further alleged to have neglected to secure and supervise prisoners – one of whom was allowed to have sex with a female visitor.

Alabama: According to a March 25, 2016 press release from the Alabama Department of Corrections, prisoner Johnny Lee Spears, 31, died after being stabbed by fellow prisoner Latarian Martel Frison at the Elmore Correctional Facility. The fatality at Elmore was the latest in a surge of violent incidents in Alabama prisons, closely following two riots at Holman Prison the previous week. [See: PLN ...


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