by Jordan Smith and Micah Lee, The Intercept
An enormous cache of phone records obtained by The Intercept reveals a major breach of security at Securus Technologies, a leading provider of phone services inside the nation’s prisons and jails. The materials – leaked via SecureDrop by an anonymous hacker who believes that Securus is violating the constitutional rights of prisoners – comprise over 70 million records of phone calls, placed by prisoners to at least 37 states, in addition to links to downloadable recordings of the calls. The calls span a nearly two-and-a-half year period, beginning in December 2011 and ending in the spring of 2014.
Particularly notable within the vast trove of phone records are what appear to be at least 14,000 recorded conversations between prisoners and attorneys, a strong indication that at least some of the recordings are likely confidential and privileged legal communications – calls that never should have been recorded in the first place. The recording of legally protected attorney-client communications – and the storage of those recordings – potentially offends constitutional protections, including the right to effective assistance of counsel and of access to the courts.
“This may be the most massive breach of the attorney-client privilege in ...
On May 27, 2016, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Securus Technologies, Inc. in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, accusing the company of recording privileged phone calls between prisoners and their attorneys as described in this issue’s cover story.
The suit was filed by former San Diego jail detainees Frank Tiscareno and Juan Romero, who allege Securus recorded calls made to their attorneys – a practice that is prohibited by state statute. The California Invasion of Privacy Act includes protections for communications between prisoners and their lawyers, physicians and members of the clergy. Cal. Penal Code § 636(a).
“But in reality, Securus does eavesdrop on, listen in on, record, and store private and confidential attorney-client phone calls without permission of all parties, and Securus shares access and recordings with law enforcement personnel, including prosecutors, as evidenced by, inter alia, reports by lawyers of production of such recorded calls from prosecutors in discovery,” the complaint states.
Recording attorney-client calls, and potentially sharing them with prosecutors and law enforcement officials, “creates a huge potential for mischief and abuse.” The lawsuit also contends that Securus did not provide adequate notice that calls would be recorded, and covered ...
On May 18, 2016, Queen Elizabeth announced a plan – touted as the “biggest shakeup” in criminal justice reform since Victorian times – that will provide more self-governance to UK prisons and allow prisoners greater access to technology. The Queen’s annual address also included a strategy for GPS monitoring of work release prisoners and a reentry initiative to educate prisoners and encourage contact with their family members to reduce recidivism.
The British government will develop a budget to provide Internet access to prisoners while addressing security concerns. It also plans to allow prison governors at six facilities to set individual guidelines for rehabilitative services, educational programs, family contact and work programs.
“By trusting governors to get on with the job, we can make sure prisons are places of education, work, and purposeful activity. These reforms will reduce re-offending, cut crime, and improve public safety,” stated Justice Secretary Michael Gove.
The Queen’s announcement of the ambitious criminal justice initiative was in sharp contrast to prison reform efforts in the United States.
“Even looking at the way that they talk about it, the framing that’s used, even there you can see a difference from the way that prison reform is talked ...
The Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, co-founded by the Human Rights Defense Center, has led the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to curb some of the more egregious abuses of the prison telecom industry. It has also helped focus increased attention from all sources, including the media, the public and those government officials not getting kickbacks from prison phone companies. While it is known that the companies record prison and jail phone calls on behalf of their government collaborators, what was not known is what exactly they did with those phone recordings. As this month’s cover story on the leak of prison phone call data indicates, at least Securus retains all the recordings on their internal servers.
Whether the data leak was facilitated by hackers or a disgruntled employee is unknown. What is known is that eavesdropping on phone calls, including calls made by prisoners to their attorneys, is apparently yet another service that the government has outsourced to private, for-profit companies. It’s unlikely that Securus is alone in these business practices. For years, prisoners and their attorneys alike have been skeptical of claims that their phone calls are not recorded by prisons and jails, and those suspicions have ...
In 2009, Seth Sundberg was sentenced to five years for a fraudulent $5 million tax refund. The former pro basketball player had managed a California mortgage office and went from a comfortable living in the real estate industry to earning $5.25 a month in the prison kitchen. While working in that position, Sundberg noticed a label on a box of frozen chicken that said “Not for Human Consumption.”
That discovery led him to swear off prison poultry forever. He began to look for nutritious, protein-rich foods in the commissary to supplement the subpar institutional meals. He developed a recipe with another prisoner using trail mix, oatmeal, peanut butter and honey that merged to form a tasty, satisfying granola bar. Soon Sundberg and his partner were making about $200 per month selling the bars to other prisoners.
Upon his release, Sundberg sought help from a nonprofit whose motto is “transform your hustle.” Defy Ventures offered him mentorship, business training and a small amount of funding; a year later, Sundberg launched a company called Prison Bars.
Prison Bars now uses organic, non-GMO and gluten-free ingredients in its “criminally delicious” snacks. The company markets and distributes the bars online and in the ...
Over the years, Prison Legal News and its parent non-profit organization, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), have filed dozens of censorship lawsuits against state prison systems and county jails, as well as numerous public records suits. [See: PLN, May 2015, p.12]. More recently, HRDC has represented the families of deceased prisoners in wrongful death complaints against corrections officials, and also represented a former prisoner who was pregnant and lost her baby due to inadequate medical care at a CCA-run jail. [See: PLN, Dec. 2014, p.28].
HRDC has now begun taking wrongful conviction cases, partnering with the Chicago law firm Loevy & Loevy to represent former Illinois state prisoner Jermaine Walker.
Walker, 39, a student at Fisk University in Tennessee prior to his wrongful imprisonment, filed a federal civil rights action on July 7, 2016 that accused current and former Chicago police officers of beating and planting drugs on him during a February 2006 traffic stop. Walker, a PLN subscriber while incarcerated, filed for a Certificate of Innocence after Cook County Judge Catherine Haberkorn ordered his immediate release from prison in March 2016. He had served ten years.
The Certificate of Innocence was granted on April 27, 2016.
231 pages, $35.00 softcover
Book review by David M. Reutter
“In prison, people can discover new things and improve themselves in many ways; faith, fitness, a new language, education, skills and qualifications that may lead to job opportunities,” writes author L.J. Flanders. “In my case, I decided to make use of my time and channeled my energy into exercise and fitness.”
The desire to fill his time with an effective exercise regimen while incarcerated at HM Prison Pentonville in England led Flanders to study sources to develop a fitness program. He found those sources lacking, and thus decided to write a book that describes how to conduct an in-cell workout without any exercise equipment.
With prisons increasingly restricting access to free weights and imposing more lockdown time, the ability of prisoners to stay fit and healthy can be easily hampered. The key is exercises that can be done in confined spaces that allow people to steadily increase their level of fitness.
Cell Workout fits the bill. As Flanders sees it, his book teaches people how to use “body weight resistance training” that does not require equipment or much space. He explains the benefits of bodyweight training and includes ...
Caddo County District Attorney Jason Hicks cited his interpretation of the state’s open records law as justification for withholding reports and video footage documenting the death of Darius Robinson at the county lockup in the rural town of Anadarko, Oklahoma.
Robinson, a father to seven children, died on April 5, 2016; an autopsy report ruled his death a homicide by “asphyxiation due to manual neck compression.” Video cameras recorded as jailers, identified by The Daily Beast as Bryan David Porter, Michael Allen Smith and Vicki Lyn Richardson, strangled Robinson on the floor of the jail’s booking area while he was handcuffed and covered in pepper spray. He had been arrested on an eight-year-old warrant for failure to pay child support.
Although Hicks refused to release the surveillance video to Robinson’s family or the media, authorities claimed Robinson had been seen eating pages out of a Bible and eating ants off the floor in the booking area. They said he was screaming and threatening another prisoner before he charged at guards who responded. No drugs or alcohol was found in Robinson’s system according to the autopsy report, ruling out intoxication as a reason for his alleged erratic ...
In February 2014, following a bench trial, U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence K. Karlton found that two California laws created as a result of state ballot initiatives “retrospectively increased punishments, in violation of the ex post facto clause of the U.S. Constitution.” Proposition 9 mandated longer intervals between parole hearings, while Proposition 89 allowed the governor to review and reverse paroles granted by the Board of Parole Hearings in cases involving prisoners convicted of murder.
Judge Karlton’s ruling was lauded by prisoners’ rights advocates, who noted the ballot initiatives had resulted in prisoners serving longer sentences and frequent reversals of parole decisions. At the time state voters approved Prop 89 around 28 years ago, it must have seemed like a good idea to give California governors the power to review and reverse decisions to parole convicted murderers.
Between 1991 and 2011, statistical data indicated that governors overturned approximately 70% of parole board decisions to release prisoners serving time for murder, effectively preventing the board from properly fulfilling its duties.
Prop 9, the Victims’ Bill of Rights Act of 2008, also known as Marsy’s Law, mandated longer periods between parole hearings, contrary to the procedures in effect ...
by Chris Hedges, Truthdig
If you are poor, you will almost never go to trial – instead you will be forced to accept a plea deal offered by government prosecutors. If you are poor, the word of the police, who are not averse to fabricating or tampering with evidence, manipulating witnesses and planting guns or drugs, will be accepted in a courtroom as if it was the word of God. If you are poor, and especially if you are of color, almost anyone who can verify your innocence will have a police record of some kind and thereby will be invalidated as a witness. If you are poor, you will be railroaded in an assembly-line production, from a town or city where there are no jobs, through the police stations, county jails and courts directly into prison. And if you are poor, because you don’t have money for adequate legal defense, you will serve sentences that are decades longer than those for equivalent crimes anywhere else in the industrialized world.
If you are a poor person of color in America you understand this with a visceral fear. You have no chance. Being poor has become a crime. And this makes ...
In a move The New York Times called “striking,” and Gabriel J. Chin, a professor at the University of California, Davis School of Law said was “groundbreaking,” U.S. District Court Judge Frederic Block sentenced a young woman in a drug case to probation rather than prison, issuing a 42-page opinion that outlined his call for reform of the collateral consequences faced by people with felony records.
Judge Block’s May 25, 2016 ruling noted that defendant Chevelle Nesbeth, who was 20 years old at the time of her conviction, will have to navigate nearly 50,000 federal and state statutes and regulations that impose penalties on felons, which, Block said, serve “no useful function other than to further punish criminal defendants after they have completed their court-imposed sentences.”
He wrote that collateral consequences such as the denial of government benefits, ineligibility for public housing, suspension of student loans and revocation or suspension of driver’s licenses, for example, may be “particularly disruptive to an ex-convict’s efforts at rehabilitation and reintegration into society” and often result in “further disastrous consequences, such as losing child custody or going homeless.”
Professor Chin said the judge’s opinion would “generate debate on ...
Government accountability advocates have called for private prison companies like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group to be subject to open records laws – including the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) – to ensure they are accountable to the public. This is especially important considering that private prison contracts are paid with public taxpayer funds.
A report from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) accuses private prison companies of manipulating their current immunity from most open records laws to cover up violations of prisoners’ rights and conceal their real costs.
“It makes no sense to exempt private prisons from the same transparency requirements already applied to government-run state and federal prisons,” said Melanie Sloan, CREW’s executive director. “Highly profitable private prison companies like [CCA] and the GEO Group have quite a deal: They take in taxpayer dollars without suffering taxpayer scrutiny.”
For-profit prison operators can skirt public records laws, including FOIA, due to their status as private entities. But clearly, companies like CCA and GEO are simply acting as surrogates for government agencies, and CREW and other critics of the private prison industry argue that open records laws should therefore apply to privately-run prisons.
Charles Donelson was a prisoner in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) when he was charged with disciplinary infractions for two incidents involving the same guard. Donelson denied that he had tried to leave his housing unit without permission, failed to follow the guard’s warning and then later attacked him. Following a disciplinary hearing in which prison officials did not produce witnesses and evidence requested by Donelson, including footage from video surveillance cameras, he was found guilty. As a result he lost a year of accumulated “good time” credit.
After exhausting his administrative remedies, Donelson filed a petition for writ of mandamus in state court challenging the denial of evidence and witnesses. His petition was denied and the denial affirmed by a state appellate court, which held for the first time that Donelson had failed to properly detach the bottom portion of an administrative form identifying what witnesses he was requesting at the disciplinary hearing; instead, he had submitted the entire form. See: Donelson v. Godinez, 2013 IL App (4th) 120795-U (Ill. App. Ct. 4th Dist. 2013).
Donelson then filed a claim for federal habeas relief under Section 2254, alleging that he had been denied due ...
A New Jersey federal district court denied a motion to dismiss filed by prison telecom giant Global Tel*Link (GTL) and its subsidiary DSI-ITI in a class-action lawsuit alleging predatory practices in providing phone service to New Jersey state prisoners.
On September 8, 2014, Judge William J. Martini held that although the plaintiffs in the suit also had a pending complaint before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that raised many of the same claims, a stay rather than dismissal was more appropriate. The case is yet another attempt to rein in exorbitant phone rates targeting prisoners and their families.
The seven plaintiffs, including a New Jersey state prisoner and her parents, claimed that GTL and DSI-ITI had engaged in “violations of federal and New Jersey state law arising from ... Defendants’ abuse of their monopoly power over phone calls made from New Jersey by prisoners by charging rates more than 100 times higher than market rates.” The complaint called the companies’ conduct “abusive, discriminatory and unreasonable,” and added the “state of New Jersey benefits financially from the Defendants’ monopoly.” At the time the suit was filed, the New Jersey DOC received a 41% commission kickback from the revenue generated from prison ...
On May 25, 2016, Joanna Saul, 33, the executive director of Ohio’s Correctional Institution Inspection Committee (CIIC), was forced to resign due to infighting between the bipartisan prison watchdog agency, Republican legislators and Governor John Kasich.
Saul first touched a nerve when the CIIC aggressively pursued transparency in prison inspections and issued reports on drugs, violence, gang activity and prison staffing. She again stepped on political toes when she exposed problems at the Lake Erie Correctional Institution, owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America. [See: PLN, Nov. 2014, p.44]. Further, CIIC inspections led the state to fine private food vendor Aramark $272,000 for maggot outbreaks in prison kitchens and multiple incidents of employee misconduct. [See: PLN, Dec. 2015, p.1].
Republican lawmakers wanted to disband the CIIC, claiming that Saul had displayed “insubordination and rogue behavior,” although the agency was considered “Ohio’s best protection against a federal lawsuit regarding prison conditions” according to Public Defender Tim Young. Young further noted that the state’s “prison population continues to grow, with an estimated all-time high coming this summer. It is vital to the safety of prison employees and inmates that the institutions are inspected regularly, and ...
Like another jail detainee more than seven years before him, Joshua Grose died while strapped into a restraint chair at the York County Detention Center in South Carolina.
In the early morning hours of October 12, 2013, following his arrest for allegedly killing both his stepmother and a neighbor by ...
While lawmakers in Hawaii have advanced bills to fast-track the relocation of a state prison, they were forced to concede that an environmental impact review could not be avoided.
In February 2016, the state legislature held a pair of hearings to consider House Bill 2388 and Senate Bill 2917, which both called for the relocation of the Oahu Community Correctional Center, currently sited in the Kalihi neighborhood on Honolulu. The facility would be relocated to the site of the old Halawa prison.
Under Governor David Ige’s proposal, the administration could access over $489 million through general obligation bonds for the prison’s relocation. The initial plan included a provision that would exempt the project from an environmental impact review, since the facility would be built on a prior prison site. By avoiding the review, construction could be expedited.
The Sierra Club of Hawaii was none too pleased. Marti Townsend, director of the Club’s Hawaii chapter, put the group’s objection into the record, stating, “Our position is simple: conduct an environmental assessment on the prison proposal as state law requires.”
Townsend continued, “How else can the project proponent know that the proposed site is the right location, that ...
The state of Illinois owes more than $34 million in operational costs for prisons statewide, including $1.2 million owed to the city of Chester for unpaid power, water and sewer bills at the Menard Correctional Center. A short-term budget deal was signed by Governor Bruce Rauner on June 30, 2016 that will free up $321 million in state funding for the Department of Corrections’ operational budget, and a spokesman for state Comptroller Leslie Munger acknowledged that checks would soon be issued for the outstanding bills.
The largest of the arrearages – $12.9 million – is owed to Constellation Energy Services, part of utility giant Exelon. The Department of Corrections also owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to each of several municipalities. The Pontiac Correctional Center owes the city of Pontiac about $733,000 for sewer service, while the city of Lincoln is waiting on a check for $446,000 for utilities provided to the Lincoln and Logan Correctional Centers. Mount Sterling officials considered suspending water service to the Western Illinois Correctional Center due to an outstanding debt of $314,000.
Rich Carter, a spokesman for the Comptroller’s office, said in an email that Munger “knows the municipalities and utility ...
Paul K. Tanaka, 57, the former second-in-command of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) and the elected mayor of Gardena, California, was found guilty on federal charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice in April 2016. Accused of being the “ringleader” of the conspiracy, he was sentenced to five years in prison on June 27, 2016.
The federal investigation into corruption in the nation’s largest sheriff’s department was recounted in PLN’s March 2016 cover story. Tanaka’s conviction closes the book on the wide-ranging investigation, which revealed beatings, brutality and misconduct by sheriff’s officials in the Los Angeles County jail system. More than 20 people were indicted on federal charges as a result of the investigation.
Gilbert Michel was among the deputies who were prosecuted. “We thought that we ran the jail,” he told reporters about the culture of abuse and impunity in the LASD. “It’s a little arrogant to think that you own that. You don’t. The people of Los Angeles County own that jail.” Michel pleaded guilty to accepting bribes and received a six-month sentence.
The corruption extended all the way up to then-Sheriff Lee Baca. Pursuant ...
In October 2011, 30-year-old Aaron David Persin was accosted by police officers for having an open container of alcohol. When they determined that he had warrants for missing traffic court they arrested Persin, who was homeless. Unable to post bail, he was held at the Oahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC ...
Smith County, Texas Judge Joel Patrick Baker was suspended without pay on June 21, 2016 after being arrested the previous week on three misdemeanor counts of violating the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Baker, who has denied any wrongdoing, is accused of improperly entering into a 10-year agreement with red-light camera operator American Traffic Solutions, Inc. (ATS) to provide services throughout Smith County. The controversial cameras, which are used to issue tickets to traffic violators, are banned in Texas municipalities; critics say the often unreliable devices are simply money-making machines for the companies that provide them and the jurisdictions that use them.
Baker’s backdoor dealings came to light when activist group Grassroots America We the People filed a complaint calling for an inquiry into a closed executive session of the County Commissioners Court held in August 2014. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton opened an investigation and a grand jury determined charges were warranted.
The judge surrendered for booking at the Smith County Sheriff’s Office and was released an hour later on $2,000 bond.
“I am not guilty of these charges. At no time did I or any member of the court knowingly violate the Texas Open Meetings Act ...
Of the more than 2.3 million people locked up in the United States at any given time, around 646,000 are held in county jails. Of that population, seven in ten are pretrial detainees who have not yet been found guilty, and according to a May 2016 report by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), most remain in jail because they cannot afford to make bond.
Money bail, generally abandoned in the federal system in favor of signature or security bonds, is a method by which the courts can motivate defendants to appear at their hearings. However, for the poor, money bail is effectively a jail sentence of indeterminate length that ends only when the case concludes or is dismissed. Bail serves another, more nefarious purpose – the longer people stay in jail because they can’t afford to make bond, the more likely they are to accept a plea deal to resolve their charges. This helps explain why prosecutors often argue for high bond amounts and why the vast majority of criminal cases end in plea bargains.
Numerous studies have shown that the weight of the criminal justice system falls most heavily upon the poor, minorities and the mentally ill ...
A conference described as “a Midwest convergence in support of prisoners’ struggles” is scheduled to be held in Columbus, Ohio from August 26-29. Titled “Bend the Bars 2016,” the event will consist of a series of workshops and discussions on issues related to mass incarceration and prisoner advocacy.
According to the conference organizers, “We hope to assemble a diverse group of individuals, groups, and organizations that are united by a desire to work against prisons, in support of our friends and family members who are locked up.... Long-term supporters, former prisoners, prisoners’ families as well as those who are just starting out and wanting to learn more are all encouraged to attend.”
The event is also expected to include a public demonstration in Columbus to show support and solidarity with prisoners and former prisoners.
In addition to other topics, the conference will discuss a planned national action on September 9, 2016 – the anniversary of the Attica rebellion – that includes non-violent work strikes at prisons nationwide. The protests are intended to call attention to the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which includes an exception for prison slave labor. The 13th Amendment states: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as ...
Chinese prisoners have used a novel, if not entirely secure, method of reporting human rights abuses, by stashing handwritten notes in the products they are forced to make inside prison sweatshops.
Accounts of former prisoners held in Chinese labor camps have described long work hours and brutal abuse at the hands of guards. They claimed they suffered sleep deprivation, were chained for weeks at a time and witnessed fellow prisoners committing suicide or dying due to untreated illnesses while working in prison factories to produce goods bound for overseas markets. U.S. citizen Stuart B. Foster, who was incarcerated in China for eight months in 2013, said he was forced to assemble strands of Christmas lights, presumably for export.
In April 2014, the New York news website DNAinfo.com tracked down the author of a letter found at the bottom of a Saks Fifth Avenue shopping bag that included the plea, “HELP HELP HELP.”
The message, in blue ink on lined white paper, was reportedly written by a prisoner who claimed he was being unjustly incarcerated and forced to work in a Chinese labor camp more than 7,000 miles away.
“We are ill-treated and work like slaves for 13 ...
Tobacco use and secondhand smoke kill over 480,000 people in the United States annually. The mortality rate of smokers is three times higher than those who have never smoked, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and smoking reduces an average smoker’s life expectancy by 10 years compared to non-smokers. While the exact numbers aren’t known, numerous prisoners die every year due to smoking-related ailments such as cancer, stroke, heart disease and chronic lung disease.
Many state prison systems imposed tobacco bans following a 1993 Supreme Court decision that found exposure to secondhand smoke could constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. [See: PLN, Sept. 1993, p.1]. In 2001, 25 states had introduced full or partial smoking bans in their correctional facilities; that number rose to 48 states by 2011.
Federal prison commissaries stopped selling tobacco in 2006, and the federal Bureau of Prisons moved to ban smoking, except for certain religious ceremonies, in 2014. “It creates a healthier environment for staff and inmates,” said BOP spokesman Ed Ross.
Other countries have already imposed or are in the process of implementing tobacco bans in their prison systems, though not all ...
On May 25, 2016, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of a federal prisoner’s petition for habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, in which he complained of an abuse of discretion by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The appellate court held the BOP had abused its discretion by considering a letter submitted by a recused, non-sentencing district court judge, Chief Judge Federico A. Moreno, who had a connection to the victim in the case and previously had been recused for that reason.
The Court of Appeals found the district court had the authority to consider claims raised by federal prisoner Daniel Angel Rodriguez – who argued the BOP violated 18 U.S.C. § 3621(b) when it denied his request for a discretionary nunc pro tunc designation of a state prison for service of his federal prison sentence – and the lower court had committed error by dismissing Rodriguez’s § 2241 petition.
The Ninth Circuit also held that the BOP had erred when it “relied on a letter from a judge who not only was not the sentencing judge, but who had been formally recused ... due to an actual conflict.” The letter, submitted by Judge ...
Inefficiencies in the New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD) and the state’s Parole Board have resulted in hundreds of prisoners being kept in prison long beyond their parole release dates. The cost of incarcerating each prisoner during this so-called “in-house parole” is $99.31 per day, and with only 50% of New Mexico’s female prisoners being paroled on time, one state lawmaker has expressed interest in ending the practice.
In fiscal year 2014, 231 female prisoners who remained in prison on in-house parole collectively spent an additional 28,982 days behind bars, according to a report issued by the New Mexico Women’s Justice Project. Representatives from the organization testified about the report’s findings before a legislative hearing on November 30, 2015.
The report, titled “Months Late, Millions Wasted,” revised in January 2016, cited data from a Legislative Finance Committee study that determined the delayed release of 290 prisoners in 2014, both male and female, had cost New Mexico taxpayers an estimated $10.3 million that year alone.
“It’s a major problem,” said state Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, who co-chairs the Criminal Justice Reform Subcommittee. “That’s a lot of money for taxpayers.”
“When I first heard ...
Private prison companies like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group earn hundreds of millions of dollars each year, averaging between $2,771 and $3,366 in profit per prisoner based on 2014 data. According to In the Public Interest (ITPI), a not-for-profit organization that opposes the privatization of public services, the companies make money by cutting corners in staffing, health care, lower employee qualifications and reduced training, and substandard facility maintenance.
ITPI profiled ten case studies involving private prison firms to illustrate those shortcomings, including facilities located in Idaho, Ohio, Florida, Mississippi, California, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Michigan. The case studies included not only corporations that operate prisons and jails, but also those that provide medical and mental health care, food services and reentry programs.
At the CCA-managed Idaho Correctional Center, the company concealed staff shortages by “falsifying records that hid 4,800 hours of uncovered shifts in a seven-month period in 2012.” CCA paid $1 million to state officials in compensation, was held in contempt by a federal court, was the subject of an FBI investigation and eventually lost its contract to run the prison. [See: PLN, Oct. 2013, p.28; May 2013, p.22].
When CCA ...
Lance Conway Wood, 48, was described as “a strong-willed inmate” with an extensive “history of ‘crossing the line’” who “exploits the human weaknesses of prison staff,” according to a federal judge. Wood, however, undoubtedly views himself as a “lover” and not an “exploiter,” and his affections have not been limited to prison employees.
Wood has served most of his life sentences in Idaho prisons for the 1988 kidnapping, torture and slaying of an Utah college student. While incarcerated he has filed multiple federal civil rights actions against prison officials.
Wood’s relationship with Idaho Department of Corrections (IDOC) guard Sandra de Martin was the subject of one of those lawsuits. Martin became a prison guard in 2001 and began working in Wood’s unit the following year. She had a “reputation for ... being overly friendly” with prisoners and quickly pursued Wood.
Eventually, a romantic relationship developed between them; they kissed and touched each other but did not have sexual contact, according to deposition testimony.
A few months into their relationship, Wood became upset when he heard rumors that Martin had married. He confronted her because “his religious beliefs did not permit him to engage in adultery.” She repeatedly denied the ...
Since the landmark Supreme Court case of Gideon v. Wainwright in 1963, criminal defendants who face incarceration have been guaranteed representation by an attorney if they cannot afford one. Gideon spurred most states and the federal government to form public defenders’ offices, which have since been overwhelmed due to limited resources and a significant increase in prosecutions.
The prison population in the United States was 217,000 in 1963; it now stands at approximately 2.3 million. Unfortunately, resources devoted to representation for indigent defendants have not kept pace with the runaway increase in the number of prisoners. In 1973, the National Advisory Council on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals (NAC) established recommended caseload maximums for public defenders; decades later, average caseloads are often much higher.
Prison Legal News has previously reported on the disparity in results in cases handled by public defenders versus court-appointed attorneys and private attorneys; the better results for private attorneys can be directly attributed to the additional time they are able to devote to their clients. [See: PLN, Jan. 2011, p.18].
As a result, said John Gross of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, “Many of us don’t consider [the caseload standards ...
A group of prisoners in Germany has accomplished what American prisoners have long been prohibited from doing: They formed a labor union for incarcerated workers, to advocate for minimum wage pay so they can earn enough for a greater chance at successful reentry after their release. The GG/BO (Gefangenengewerkschaft/Bundesweite Organisation) was created in May 2014 and has 800 members in 40 prisons, with a recent expansion into Austria late last year.
Prisoners at Berlin-Tegel, Germany’s largest correctional facility, who work regular shifts in kitchens and workshops, have argued that they are “de facto employees, just like their colleagues outside the prison gates,” according to the union’s spokesman, Oliver Rast.
“Prisoners have never had a lobby working for them. With the prisoners’ union we’ve decided to create one ourselves,” said Rast, who’s been incarcerated since 2009 for a series of arson attacks on government buildings.
A national minimum wage of €8.50 per hour went into effect in Germany in 2015, while prisoners at Berlin-Tegel earn between €1.50 and €2 per hour.
The union has insisted that prisoners should receive the minimum wage and that elderly prisoners, especially, should be able to earn a ...
Iowa State District Court Judge Scott D. Rosenberg reversed and remanded a prisoner’s adverse classification hearing based upon the denial of his right to legal counsel.
Gary Pettit pleaded guilty to third-degree sexual abuse and kidnapping, and received consecutive 15-year prison terms. As part of his sentence he was required to complete sex offender treatment at the Anamosa State Penitentiary, which he did in 2005.
In 2014, Pettit applied for parole. The Iowa Board of Parole denied his request, stating, “the seriousness of your crime or your criminal history suggests to the Board you have not yet served enough time to warrant an early release,” and recommended that he complete sex offender treatment.
Accordingly, the Iowa Department of Corrections (IDOC) ordered Pettit to participate in another sex offender program under the threat of losing accumulated good time credits if he refused, and gave him notice that he could appeal. Prior to the appeal hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), Pettit had sought to issue subpoenas and requested that his attorney be present; both requests were denied, with the ALJ citing IDOC policy IS-CL03. He appealed and on March 30, 2015 his appeal was rejected.
Pettit then filed an ...
On November 12, 2015, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a setback to death penalty abolitionists by reversing a grant of habeas corpus relief to a California prisoner who argued that the state’s post-conviction process in capital cases violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. In a habeas petition brought by death-sentenced prisoner Ernest DeWayne Jones, the district court had held that “systemic delay and dysfunction” rendered the process so arbitrary that it violated the Eighth Amendment.
Attorneys representing Jones, who has spent over two decades on death row, had successfully argued that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972) applied – persuading the district court that death row prisoners “will depend upon a factor largely outside an inmate’s control, and wholly divorced from the penological purposes the State sought to achieve by sentencing him to death in the first instance: how quickly the inmate proceeds through the State’s dysfunctional post-conviction review process.”
The district court also wrote that “where the State permits the post-conviction review process to become so inordinately and unnecessarily delayed that only an arbitrarily selected few of those sentenced to ...
A settlement agreement in a federal lawsuit forced the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) and the state’s Parole Board to deem a prisoner eligible for parole. The settlement also reversed the agencies’ interpretation of Virginia’s “Three Strikes” law in that case.
State prisoner Jerry D. Lee, 45, was incarcerated in 1992 on nine common law robbery and attempted robbery charges. The robberies were committed over a nine-day period, and together netted no more than $1,200 to feed Lee’s drug addiction. He pleaded guilty to eight counts and received a 28-year sentence; in another county, his guilty plea resulted in a 40-year sentence with 25 years suspended for good behavior and other conditions.
Lee was required to serve a total of 44 years, but as a first-time offender he should have been eligible for discretionary parole in 2003. The VDOC, however, dashed his hopes for early release in December 1996, claiming he was ineligible for parole under Va. Code Section 53.11.-15q (BI)
That statute provides that defendants “convicted of three separate felony offences of (i) murder, (ii) rape, or (iii) robbery by the presenting of firearms or other deadly weapon ... shall not be eligible for ...
In 2007, prisoner Aaron Willey filed a pro se federal civil rights lawsuit against guards employed by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, alleging harassment, inadequate nutrition, theft of legal documents, malicious prosecution, false imprisonment and unsanitary conditions of confinement.
Willey claimed that after he refused ...
On May 11, 2016, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s dismissal of a former prisoner’s civil rights action. Stephen Ted Koprowski, who was incarcerated at USP Ft. McCreary in Pine Knot, Kentucky, sued after he fell off a step ladder and injured his back while working in the prison’s kitchen in November 2009.
As was clear from the facts of this case, a prisoner with a work-related injury faces many challenges. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) doesn’t pay many visits to prison work sites, where equipment is often old and outdated, safety precautions are minimal, and supervisors are unsympathetic to prisoners’ working conditions and forced labor.
After enduring the all-too-routine indifference to his medical condition by Bureau of Prisons (BOP) staff, Koprowski fought back, filing administrative complaints. He alleged that prison medical staff had “delayed taking X-rays and refused to perform a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (‘MRI’) scan, which would have shown that he had broken his back.”
He was also subjected to harassment, retaliation and disciplinary charges, claiming that “staff threatened to send him to solitary confinement unless he surrendered a wheelchair he had been using; when he complied with ...
Mother Jones magazine, known for its in-depth investigative reporting, was not content to merely skim the surface of the controversial private prison industry by viewing it from the outside. Prisons both public and private are notorious for their lack of transparency, typically justified in the name of “security” – which is another way of saying “move along, nothing to see here.” Prison walls don’t just prevent prisoners from getting out; they also prevent the public – and news media – from looking in.
That is the environment Mother Jones senior reporter Shane Bauer sought to infiltrate when, using his own name and identifying information, he applied for a job with and was hired by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) at the company’s 1,576-bed Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield, Louisiana. CCA, Bauer said, needed guards so desperately that it “wasn’t interested in the details of my resume.” After spending four months employed as a prison guard at Winn, Bauer’s experiences were recounted in an epic 35,000-word feature story in Mother Jones’ July-August 2016 issue.
CCA operates detention facilities in 20 states for local, state and federal authorities, and has been dogged by scandals, abuses and prisoners’ right organizations ...
A recent study by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) places its emphasis not on the number of people incarcerated in the United States, but rather on an often-ignored figure – how many individuals are on probation and parole. The June 2016 study indicates that even some states that have reduced their incarceration rates still have high rates of community supervision.
PPI’s research contains “data on all of the kinds of correctional control: federal prison, state prison, local jails, juvenile incarceration, civil commitment, Indian Country jails, parole and ... probation.” Of all of those categories, none is more important than probation, as 56% of people under correctional control are on probation.
This is important for several reasons, not the least of which is that probationers are still at risk of being sent to prison or jail. As the study notes, “Unnecessarily onerous probation and parole conditions can funnel more people into incarceration. National statistics show that among those exiting probation and parole in 2014, over a third failed to successfully complete their supervision.”
Another reason the number of people on community supervision is significant is because maintaining high rates of probation and parole is costly and diverts resources from other public services ...
Valley fever is widespread in the Southwest, yet Hawaii’s prison officials haven’t paid much attention to it, despite the recent deaths of at least two Hawaii 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, was 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 a few days later. 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 soon 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 ...
It took eight years but civil rights attorneys finally prevailed in a federal lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), entering into a settlement that requires prison officials to provide 11,000 mentally ill state prisoners with adequate mental health care. The class-action suit was filed in 2007 as a result of draconian cutbacks in mental health services at IDOC facilities.
The plaintiffs alleged violations of their liberty interests under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12131 and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794. The complaint named individual IDOC employees as defendants rather than the State of Illinois, as required by § 1983, and also sharply criticized Wexford Health Sources, Inc., the IDOC’s private medical contractor, which has been cited for inadequate medical care in Illinois and other jurisdictions. [See, e.g., PLN, March 2015, pp.38, 60; May 2013, p.26].
According to the lawsuit, “Mentally ill inmates in IDOC facilities are chronically underdiagnosed and undertreated ... subjected to brutality ..., and housed in conditions that beggar imagination ... mocked and abused by correctional staff, sprayed with caustic chemicals and derided for their ...
An updated report by Detention Watch Network (DWN), in cooperation with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), has exposed the practice of “guaranteed minimum” bed quotas in detention facilities operated by or for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The term refers to the highly-criticized practice that originated by an act of Congress in 2009, requiring ICE to maintain a minimum quota of 34,000 detention facility beds at all times. [See: PLN, Jan. 2016, p.46].
The policy has been blamed for influencing ICE’s enforcement activities as well as discouraging releases of immigrant detainees in order to maintain the detention bed quota. However, the practice is not confined to ICE facilities. In their report, originally published in June 2015 and updated in June 2016, DWN and CCR revealed that the lockup quota also exists at detention facilities run by private, for-profit companies.
To compile the statistics used in the report, the organizations filed numerous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and examined records compiled by the National Immigrant Justice Center and the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. Details regarding bed guarantees in immigrant detention contracts with private prison firms were buried in the fine print.
“Because ICE ...
This year, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest for-profit prison company, held its annual shareholder meeting on May 12, 2016. The meeting took place at CCA’s swank corporate office near the upscale Green Hills area of Nashville, Tennessee; the firm has a modern office with a large fountain in the middle of a circular driveway in front of the building.
Around 40 protestors showed up to demonstrate against CCA’s profit-driven business model, including activists with the Nashville Peace and Justice Center and a radical LGBTQ group. They chanted, carried signs that read “Invest in People not Prisons” and “Prison Profiteers are the Real Criminals,” shouted at shareholders arriving for the meeting, tried to stop vehicles from entering the area, and confronted security guards and police officers.
“Divest from this company!” one protestor yelled. “You’re making money off of people’s suffering! How can you sleep at night?”
There were no arrests.
Meanwhile, inside the shareholder meeting it was business as usual – and business for CCA was good. The company reported $1.79 billion in gross revenue in 2015 with net income of around $220 million, and CCA executives congratulated themselves on accomplishments during the ...
Although much of the attention concerning the huge increase in America’s prison population has focused on the federal prison system, a new U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) report found that the number of prisoners in state facilities increased by 55%, from 857,000 in 1993 to 1,325,300 in 2013. However, it is in the over-55 category that state prison populations have exploded during that same time period, up 400%. The large increase in elderly prisoners has resulted in soaring criminal justice costs.
According to the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the increase in aging prisoners is attributable to the following: “(1) a greater proportion of prisoners were sentenced to, and serving longer periods in state prison, predominantly for violent offenses, and (2) admissions of old[er] persons increased.” The BJS noted that in the past two decades, the “median age of admission increased from 29 years ... to 32 years.” Thus, much of the increase was the result of locking up a large number of people who grew old in prison due to lengthy sentences.
By comparison, the number of prisoners age 39 or younger, and in the age group of 40 to 54, has ...
In May 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held that sex offenders released from custody cannot be compelled to answer potentially incriminating polygraph questions as a condition of their supervised release. The ruling came after an earlier emergency stay of a polygraph test was issued by the appellate court.
The case centered on Brian Von Behren, a Colorado resident who was convicted of distribution of child pornography in 2005 and sentenced to 121 months in federal prison, along with a three-year term of supervised release. In March 2014, as Behren’s prison sentence was ending, a special condition of his supervised release was modified, requiring him to submit to a sexual history polygraph that included potentially incriminating questions.
Once released from prison, Behren entered into a non-negotiable treatment agreement with RSA, Inc., a Colorado-based sex offender treatment provider under the authority of the Colorado Sex Offender Management Board, which requires such programs to conduct a sexual history polygraph and report any admissions of illegal conduct to law enforcement officials.
The polygraph included four potentially incriminating questions concerning prior sexual conduct: 1) After the age of 18, did you engage in sexual activity with anyone under ...
Arkansas: Two guards were placed on paid leave after they shot and killed prisoner Christopher Wilson during an April 7, 2016 escape attempt from the Varner Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction. According to DOC spokesperson Solomon Graves, “Officers gave [Wilson] a demand to cease his activity, and he failed to comply.” The last guard-involved fatal shooting of an Arkansas prisoner was in 1991, and the last death that occurred during an escape was in 2013, when a prisoner became stuck in a fence and died of his injuries. That incident also happened at the Varner Unit.
Australia: On April 9, 2016, police captured two men who had escaped from the medium-security Fulham Correctional Centre, which is operated by the GEO Group. As a sanction for allowing the escape, the private prison contractor was subject to a $220,000 fine and at risk of losing its contract. “The private operator will also provide me with a report into this matter and how this occurred,” said Corrections Commissioner Jan Shuard. “There are serious ramifications within the contract for an escape.” GEO is conducting an internal investigation into the security breach.
Australia: Up to 50 Australian guards with riot shields attacked ...