Child support is an enormous issue in the United States. In August 2015, Mark Greenberg, the Acting Assistant Secretary for the Administration for Children and Families, a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, wrote that 1 in 4 children nationwide had an active child support case. Court-ordered child support obligations totaled $32.9 billion in 2013 according to the U.S. Census Bureau, not including past-due payments. Unpaid child support is estimated at $113 billion nationally.
Further, child support is an issue that mainly impacts the poor. Based on 2013 data, 76% of parents who owed past due child support earned $10,000 or less per year, while another 9% earned between $10,001 and $20,000. The poverty rate of custodial parents who received child support payments was 28.8%.
“Billing poor fathers doesn’t help poor mothers and kids become less poor,” observed Jacquelyn Boggess with the Center for Family Policy and Practice. Instead, it results in “a highly indebted individual.” It can also result in parents being jailed for nonpayment of their child support obligations.
The practice of incarcerating mostly poor parents for failing to pay child support is well over a century ...
A lot has been written about mass incarceration and the role drug laws have played in boosting the nation’s prison and jail population. While it is intuitive to expect prisoners to be accused or convicted of criminal offenses, the reality is that tens of thousands of people – nearly all men and, as usual, disproportionately men of color, and nearly always poor – are languishing behind bars not because they committed a crime but because they are too poor to pay court-ordered child support. While much attention has been focused recently on “debtors’ prisons,” where people are incarcerated due to their inability to pay fines, fees and court costs, prisoners serving time for non-payment of child support are largely ignored.
This month’s cover story is the first article to examine this issue nationally. Jailing people who owe child support first came to my attention in 2010 when PLN was suing the Berkeley County jail in South Carolina, which banned all books and magazines except the Bible. [See: PLN, Feb. 2012, p.14; Nov. 2010, p.38]. While reviewing the jail roster I noticed that over half the population of around 500 prisoners had not been accused or convicted of a ...
On November 16, 2015, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of a civil rights action brought by a former New Jersey state prisoner who was housed at a community corrections facility and allegedly mistreated when she was repeatedly returned to prison.
Alexandra Chavarriaga was in the custody of the New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC) at the Garrett House, a residential community release program, when she was transferred three times to the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility between 2010 and 2011 due to rule violations. During each transfer she was held en route at the New Jersey State Prison, where she was kept naked in a cell that had no potable water and was not offered any water to drink for up to three days. She claimed that guards “told her to drink from the cell’s toilet bowl.” To receive a shower, she was required to walk naked, handcuffed and manacled, down a hallway in full view of male prisoners. She was also denied medication for migraines and menstrual cramps, and denied sanitary napkins.
During her second transfer and stay at the New Jersey State Prison, she was subjected to a body cavity search of her rectum ...
by Jordan Smith, The Intercept
Attorneys and advocates for people incarcerated in local jails in Austin, Texas have settled a federal lawsuit against telecommunications company Securus Technologies, with an agreement ostensibly designed to ensure that privileged legal communications between defense attorneys and their clients are not improperly recorded.
The suit, originally filed in April 2014 by the Austin Lawyers Guild, the Prison Justice League and several individually named defense attorneys, alleged that Securus recorded confidential and privileged communications between lawyers and detainees that were then accessed and listened to by prosecutors. Local prosecutors’ offices and the Travis County Sheriff’s Office – which manages the county’s jail facilities – were also named as parties to the suit.
The Intercept first reported on the Austin lawsuit in our November 2015 story about an unprecedented hack of a recorded calls database belonging to Securus. An anonymous hacker provided the data via SecureDrop, including records related to more than 70 million individual calls placed by prisoners to 1.3 million unique phone numbers over a 2 1/2-year period. In a follow-up story, we reported finding within that data at least 57,000 calls made by detainees to lawyers, including calls that individual attorneys ...
The North Carolina Industrial Commission awarded $81,200 to the estate of a prisoner who died after a guard at the Greene Corr. Institution denied him medical care.
The estate alleged that prisoner Thomas Sellars, 51, went to the officer’s station in the fall of 2010 and informed Sgt ...
Drones are increasingly being used in attempts to smuggle drugs and other contraband into prisons worldwide. Previously, smugglers had to bribe guards, use their body cavities or have accomplices sneak forbidden items through prison visitation. All of that is now changing with the availability of commercial unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones.
“The technology gets better and better, and we have to figure out how to fight that,” said Stephanie Givens, spokeswoman for the South Carolina Department of Corrections.
The problem is becoming so widespread that some prisons in Canada are draping nets over perimeter fences or walls to thwart drones. Other facilities have doubled their perimeter guards to deter airborne smugglers. However, as more people learn how to pilot drones, which are easily obtainable, reports of their use to deliver contraband continue to rise.
In April 2016, Michigan prison officials investigated a drone-like toy found on the grounds of the Charles Egeler Reception and Guidance Center. While it was too small to carry contraband, it may have been an attempt to probe security at the facility in preparation for sending a larger drone.
“We don’t know whether this was someone testing the security system there, or ...
The family of a mentally ill Oregon prisoner who died due to complications from an untreated broken neck received $7.4 million to settle their claims.
In 2012, the Lane County Jail (LCJ) in Eugene, Oregon entered into a contract with Tennessee-based Corizon Health, Inc. to provide medical care. The ...
On October 22, 2015, a federal jury awarded $1 million to the survivors and estate of a prisoner who died in a Texas jail, finding jail employees were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs.
Terry Lynn Borum, 53, was booked into the Swisher County jail on January 28, 2013. He ...
President Obama announced 214 commutations on August 3, 2016, spurring hope that the pace will increase as he nears the end of his term in office. This latest batch, the largest number of commutations issued in a single day since 1900 according to the White House, brings the total during Obama’s tenure to 562 – including 197 granted to life-sentenced prisoners. He has also denied almost 11,000 commutation petitions, while 3,893 petitions were closed without presidential action.
Commutation alters a prisoner’s sentence but does not nullify the conviction. Prisoners who receive commutations are not freed immediately, but are transferred to a halfway house at a specified time before being released and placed on community supervision if applicable.
Prisoners’ rights advocates applauded the announcement, but noted that the number of federal prisoners granted commutations is still minimal when compared to those who have filed petitions. Almost all of the commutations have been for drug-related crimes, although some were for combined drug and weapons charges.
“Our work is far from finished,” wrote White House counsel Neil Eggleston. “I expect the President will continue to grant clemency in a historic and inspiring fashion.” Eggleston noted that while the White House ...
The en banc Oregon Supreme Court held on October 22, 2015 that appealing a trial court order conditionally releasing a juvenile murderer who had served half his minimum sentence did not relieve prison officials of their statutory obligation to prepare the prisoner’s release plan.
Oregon juveniles who: 1) committed their crimes after June 30, 1995; 2) were 14 years old or younger at the time of the offense; 3) were waived into adult court and convicted of a criminal offense; and 4) sentenced to at least 24 months in prison are eligible to request a “second look hearing” upon serving half their sentence.
Second look hearings involve a two-step process. The first step is initiated by the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC), which files a notice and request for a second look hearing no more than 120 days and no less than 60 days before the prisoner has served one-half of his sentence. The trial court must then schedule a hearing within 30 days of completion of one-half of the sentence.
The prisoner bears the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that: 1) he has been rehabilitated and reformed; 2) if conditionally released, would not be a ...
An unnamed Navy nurse at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba that houses alleged terrorist detainees, who was facing expulsion from the Navy for his refusal to participate in force-feeding prisoners, has been allowed to return to his regular duties. The hunger-striking detainees at Guantanamo, imprisoned without formal charges for years, began refusing meals in March 2013 to protest their indefinite confinement and the conditions under which they were being held.
In response, they were forcibly removed from their cells, strapped into a restraint chair and had a nasogastric tube inserted down their noses to force liquid supplements into their stomachs several times a day. Sometimes the tube was lubricated, sometimes it was not; the process was painful and humiliating. Although one of the detainees, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, who used a wheelchair, offered to submit to the force-feedings, he was still subjected to forcible cell extractions.
The issue involving the Navy nurse became public following a lawsuit filed by Dhiab, who had been confined at Guantanamo since August 2002. According to one of his attorneys, Cori Crider, the nurse – a Navy lieutenant who has never been identified – “initially ... did carry out his orders [to] participate in ...
A longtime Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) guard was ordered to pay $1.5 million to a female prisoner he had raped, though he did not face criminal charges for the assault.
Timothy Ware, 40, a former guard at the Decatur Correctional Center (DCC), sexually assaulted 25-year-old prisoner Ashley Robinson ...
As previously reported in PLN, the prison telecom industry has been successful so far in delaying implementation of the rate caps ordered by the FCC in October 2015. [See: PLN, May 2016, p.36; Dec. 2015, p.40]. And while the limits on ancillary fees were implemented in prisons in March 2016 and jails in June 2016, intrastate rate caps remain stayed by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals after Global Tel*Link, Securus and corrections officials filed suit challenging the FCC’s order. Some prison phone providers have even increased intrastate rates, which are currently unregulated, to offset lost revenue from fees and interstate calls.
Faced with the reality of long delays while the previously-ordered rate caps work their way through the court system, the FCC made a strategic but difficult decision to increase the caps to cover phone-related costs allegedly incurred by correctional agencies. The goal of the rate cap increase was to moot claims in the pending lawsuit related to cost recovery by prison and jail officials.
Under the new rate caps, all debit/prepaid calls from federal and state prisons will be capped at $0.13/min. Debit/prepaid calls from jails with more than ...
Inside the Lumberton Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison near Fayetteville, North Carolina, there is said to be an isolated office known as the “boom-boom room.”
There, according to prisoners and former staff members alike, unlucky prisoners were taken by guards to be beaten under orders from prison supervisors, often when restrained and posing no security threat. According to a July 3, 2016 article in The Charlotte Observer, when confronted with the reports, former Lumberton superintendent Brad Perritt said, “I know no such room” and refused to comment further.
Earlier, in May 2016, the Observer published the story of Morlai Sesay, a 65-year-old Lumberton prisoner who said he was hospitalized for four days after a beating in the “boom-boom room.” Sesay’s allegations were not isolated. Within five weeks after the news article circulated, reporters were contacted by six other prisoners and two former staff members who all described assaults that occurred in the office, which is not monitored by the prison’s surveillance camera system.
Prisoner Randy Massey said he was taken to the “boom-boom room” in March 2015 after he struck a guard in the face. He claimed that superintendent Perritt ordered guards to beat him, which they did ...
A $2.09 million settlement was reached in a lawsuit stemming from the death of a prisoner who was denied medical care at Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County Jail.
Derek E. Black, 28, was involved in an April 16, 2012 altercation with another prisoner and placed in solitary confinement. Several days ...
On August 18, 2016, the Deputy Attorney General of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced, via a memo to the acting director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, that the DOJ plans to phase out contracts with private, for-profit prisons.
The memo cited a scathing report by the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General, released earlier in August, which found higher rates of assaults, disciplinary convictions, lockdowns, use of force and contraband at private prisons that hold federal prisoners. Improperly placing prisoners in segregation units was also cited as a problem at the facilities, run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), GEO Group and Management & Training Corp. (MTC).
“Private prisons served an important role during a difficult period, but time has shown that they compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities,” the memo stated. “They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security.”
The findings by the OIG were, in fact, nothing new – for decades there have been reports ...
Mexico’s national defense department calls the Zetas “the most formidable death squad to have worked for organized crime in Mexican history.” U.S. officials agree, saying the gang is “the most technologically advanced, sophisticated and dangerous cartel operating in Mexico.”
One of the Zetas’ most gruesome atrocities was the Allende Massacre of 2011, when hundreds of men, women and children suspected of being informants were slain, then their bodies transported to a prison in Piedras Negras for disposal in acid or by burning. The Zetas-controlled prison made headlines again in September 2012 when 131 prisoners took part in Mexico’s largest jailbreak, which was reportedly orchestrated by the gang. [See: PLN, June 2013, p.56].
According to testimony in federal court in San Antonio, Texas in July 2016, Zetas commandant Marciano “El Chano” Millan-Vasquez refuted accusations that he had not only participated in the mass slaughters but also trafficked thousands of pounds of cocaine and marijuana from Mexico to the United States. Millan-Vasquez allegedly bribed the governor of the State of Coahuila, Rubén Moreira, with “suitcases of cash” for his complicity in gang-related crimes. The governor’s office denied the allegations as “falsehoods and lies.”
Witnesses tied Millan-Vasquez ...
In 1983, a troubled 14-year-old boy named Richard S. ran away from his group home in San Mateo, California. Richard – who never knew his father and whose mother died when he was a small child – was in desperate need of an adult he could trust. A juvenile judge referred the boy to Dr. William Ayres, a prominent Yale-trained child psychiatrist who had been evaluating juveniles for the San Mateo County juvenile justice system since the 1960s.
At Richard’s first counseling session, the hulking six-foot-plus Ayres – well-known in San Mateo County for his pompous airs – demanded that the boy remove his clothes for an “examination.” Then, as Richard recalls, Ayres forced the young boy to masturbate him, and masturbated Richard. More than three decades later, Richard, now serving 25 years to life in a California prison on a three-strikes theft conviction, still gets a stricken look on his face at the memories of Ayres “getting nasty” and threatening him when he balked at performing oral sex on the doctor.
“I do remember Dr. Ayres telling me that if anyone found out or if I told anyone that he would come back and get me and nobody would believe me because ...
Three Massachusetts state prisoners have been placed in segregation in apparent retaliation for their prison reform activism.
Timothy Muise, Shawn Fisher and Steven James, all incarcerated at the medium-security prison MCI Shirley, were taken from their cells late at night on March 23, 2016 and transferred to three different Massachusetts facilities, where they were all put in solitary confinement. While in solitary they had restricted access to phone calls and visits.
What do they have in common? They are all prison reform and prisoners’ rights advocates.
Muise, 52, and Fisher, 44, had recently organized meetings at MCI Shirley with members of the Legislative Harm Reduction Caucus, a coalition of 70 state lawmakers that works to address the root causes of incarceration. Massachusetts Rep. Benjamin Swan, a leading member of the Caucus, described it as “A group of progressive legislators who see the need for some reform in the criminal justice system and corrections as well.”
Meetings sanctioned by MCI Shirley officials and attended by correctional staff were held at the prison in October 2015 and February 2016. Muise and Fisher organized the meetings and attended. While James, 39, did not attend, he has been a prominent advocate for prison reform ...
Organizers hope that a petition circulating throughout Louisiana’s Iberia Parish will result in the recall of Sheriff Louis Ackal. According to Donald Broussard, the activist who started the petition, a “dark cloud is being cast over Iberia Parish” due to corruption attributed to Ackal and his staff. The petition needs signatures from just over 33% of the parish’s registered voters, and Broussard said he hopes to register new voters and exceed that threshold.
Sheriff Ackal drew immediate scrutiny when he, jail colonel Gerald Savoy and former captain Mark Frederick were indicted in March 2016 for their roles in the jailhouse beatings of five pretrial detainees in the chapel of the Iberia Parish Jail in 2011. The scandal grew after Ackal and Savoy were charged in a superseding indictment for another violent episode in 2014 where the pair allegedly assaulted two prisoners, orally raping one with a baton. In addition to the indictments, at least nine former guards have pleaded guilty to similar assaults, and eight prisoner deaths have occurred at the Iberia Parish Jail on Ackal’s watch.
The sheriff’s response to his legal troubles landed him in more hot water in July 2016, when secret recordings ...
Northern Georgia Judicial Circuit District Attorney Parks White surrendered to the Hart County Sheriff’s Office to be booked and fingerprinted on June 20, 2016, before being released on a $1,000 signature bond. Senior Superior Court Judge Robert Struble had signed an arrest order for White on a felony charge of violating the state’s political campaign laws. Specifically, while running for a second term in office, White allegedly mailed an election advertisement to voters that pictured uniformed Hartwell Police Department officers with the caption “Officers support Parks White.”
Georgia state law forbids the use of municipal or county police departments’ names or uniformed officers, patrol cars or badges without the express permission of the local governing authority. The complaint was filed by attorney Allyn Stockton, who said his client, Hart County resident Liz Parsons, accused White of failing to “get permission from the city of Hartwell before the picture was made.” According to Stockton the statute has a purpose: “It’s a law on the books designed to keep police departments from being exploited.”
White, who faces 1 to 5 years in prison if convicted of the felony offense, faced controversy last year for indicting DeKalb County Superior ...
A California federal district court held in May 2015 that jail officials did not violate the First Amendment by refusing to distribute unsolicited publications to prisoners.
Crime, Justice & America, Inc. (CJA), founded by former bail bondsman Ray Hrdlicka, publishes a weekly 36- to 40-page magazine of the same name that targets newly-arrested jail detainees awaiting trial. Most of the publication’s articles provide information about the criminal justice process and common legal issues in criminal cases; many articles are written by attorneys and other law enforcement and criminal justice experts, and CJA includes advertisements from lawyers and bail bond companies.
The magazine is free to prisoners. Most jails allow general distribution of CJA’s publication, making stacks of the magazine available in jail common areas.
CJA initially attempted to distribute its magazine through individually-addressed subscriptions, but ended that practice because it was not cost effective or efficient, as prisoners were frequently moved from one facility to another.
California’s Butte County Jail (BCJ), with a population of nearly 600 prisoners, has a mail policy that prohibits unsolicited commercial materials.
In August 2004, CJA asked BCJ officials to distribute its magazine to prisoners. BCJ refused, concluding that doing so would violate ...
Larry Darnell Gordon, 45, was being transported to a Berrien County court proceeding on July 11, 2016 when he overpowered a deputy, stole his gun and tried to take hostages during an escape attempt. Gordon fatally shot two bailiffs in the ensuing chaos and wounded a sheriff’s deputy and a nearby civilian before being gunned down by other court officers.
In a press conference attended by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey identified the slain bailiffs as Joseph Zangaro, 61, and Ronald Kienzle, 63, and said the injured deputy, 41-year-old James Atterberry, had undergone surgery and was “doing fine.” Bailey did not identify Gordon’s fourth victim, a woman who was shot in the arm, but said she was in stable condition.
Initially there were questions as to whether Gordon had been properly restrained while being transported, and Bailey confirmed that he was handcuffed in front of his body when he disarmed the deputy. “This is an unfortunate thing,” the sheriff said. “We move people every day.... Safety is the utmost and this is an unfortunate situation where this inmate, who wanted to break out, was able to overpower our deputy and get his weapon.”
The United States is not the only nation that has serious problems with the operation of its jails and prisons. Recently, an amicus curiae made a number of recommendations in a case being considered by the Supreme Court of India, noting poor conditions in Indian prisons. Gaurav Agrawal, who was appointed by the Supreme Court, submitted his recommendations in a writ petition filed in 2013 by a former chief justice of the Court, R.C. Lahoti.
In response, Justices Madan B. Lokur and R.K. Agrawal issued a series of directives to address concerns raised in the petition, and acknowledged that although problems with Indian prisons and jails had been cited frequently over the past 35 years, progress has been slow. “Unfortunately, even though Article 21 of the Constitution requires a life of dignity for all persons, little appears to have changed on the ground as far as prisoners are concerned and we are once again required to deal with issues relating to prisons in the country and their reform,” the Justices wrote.
In previous decisions, the Supreme Court had “pointed out the double handicap that prisoners face; the first being that most prisoners belong to the weaker sections of ...
On June 1, 2015, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held “that deprivations of First Amendment rights are themselves injuries, apart from any mental, emotional, or physical injury that might also arise from the deprivation, and that [42 U.S.C.] § 1997e(e) does not bar all relief for injuries ...
A 55-year-old man who was convicted based upon the now-discredited “science” of forensics hair analysis has been awarded $13.2 million by District of Columbia Superior Court Judge John M. Mott. This was just the latest in a long line of cases where pseudo-scientific testimony by the FBI crime lab ...
Four suicides occurred in North Carolina state prisons during a 17-day period from April 19 to May 5, 2016, bringing the total number of self-inflicted prisoner deaths to five this year and surpassing last year’s total of three. An investigation by The Charlotte Observer found several guards had been fired for skipping observation rounds, but did not determine if those lapses had contributed to the recent spate of suicides.
State prison officials reported 68 suicides in the 25 years prior to 2015 – an average of around 2.7 per year – and Prisons Commissioner W. David Guice noted the department generally does a good job of preventing such incidents. He said in a statement that “the number of suicide deaths is greatly outnumbered by successful interventions.” Disturbingly, however, several of the deaths occurred in segregation units, where prison policy requires close supervision.
Critics have questioned whether prison officials are doing enough to protect prisoners from self-harm. “These are restrictive units where there is supposed to be a tremendous amount of observation. There is no excuse. Where are the cameras?” said Elizabeth Forbes, director of NC CURE, a criminal justice reform group.
In July 2016, state officials announced a plan to ...
In the summer of 2014, a surge of tens of thousands of immigrant refugees from Central America brought unprecedented attention to the incarceration of families and unaccompanied children in so-called residential centers – many run by for-profit prison companies – as they sought asylum in the United States.
Human rights advocates warned of the harmful effects detention has on immigrant children, while lawmakers complained they were denied access to the facilities and immigrant detention was a financial burden on taxpayers.
Everyone on Wall Street, meanwhile, agreed that locking up immigrant families was a boon for private prison firms like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, which received lucrative contracts to run the detention centers. CCA, for example, received a no-bid, four-year contract worth $1 billion to operate its South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas. Even better for the company, it will be paid as if the 2,400-bed facility is at 100% capacity no matter how many immigrants are housed there. At full capacity, CCA is paid $285 per day per resident at Dilley.
In August 2014, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) opened a purportedly “family friendly” detention center in Karnes County, Texas, about an hour southeast of ...
The passage of California’s Proposition 47 in November 2014 – which reduced many felony drug possession and property crimes to misdemeanors – might be a harbinger of criminal justice reform nationwide. But for now, reform advocates have gladly accepted the release of as many as 10,000 California state prisoners and thousands more in county jails across the state who became eligible to go home as a result of the ballot initiative.
More than 58% of California voters voted in favor of Prop 47, choosing to rethink the tough-on-crime approach that has defined the state’s criminal justice system for decades and resulted in extreme prison overcrowding due to three-strikes laws and harsh mandatory minimums.
The initiative, known as the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, reduces the number of people sent to prison for non-serious, nonviolent crimes and redirects money currently spent on financing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to support crime prevention programs.
State taxpayers spend $11 billion annually on California’s prison system, which has been so overcrowded that in 2011 the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the state to reduce the CDCR’s population by around 40,000 prisoners. [See: PLN, July 2011, p.1 ...
Illinois Governor Bruce V. Rauner signed HB 6200, the Family Connections Bill, into law on August 22, 2016. Under the provisions of that legislation, domestic prison phone rates within the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) and Department of Juvenile Justice will be capped at $0.07/min. while the rate for international calls will be capped at $0.23/min., effective January 1, 2018. Advocates argued that the bill, which received bipartisan support, will reduce recidivism and help prisoners reintegrate into their communities after being released by making it more affordable for them to stay in touch with their families while incarcerated.
“We need to approach our criminal justice system with more compassion,” Governor Rauner stated. “I want those who did something wrong to face punishment, but we must make sure that the punishment fits the crime. We need to explore new avenues so that we’re balancing punishment with rehabilitation and not needlessly tearing families and lives apart.”
An order issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in October 2015, which went into effect at IDOC facilities in March 2016, eliminated all but three ancillary fees that can be charged for inmate calling services (ICS). As a result, phone ...
Belgian prisoner Frank Van Den Bleeken, who in 1989 raped and killed Christiane Remacle, a student from Antwerp, was sentenced to life and has spent over 30 years in prison. Most European countries, unlike the United States, have abolished the death penalty. Belgium did so in 1996, though the last execution carried out in that nation was in 1950.
Under Belgium’s liberal euthanasia laws, individuals can ask doctors to terminate their lives if a panel of medical officials concurs they are facing severe physical or mental suffering. People seeking euthanasia must be mentally competent and have a “voluntary, considered and repeated” desire to die.
In 2011, Van Den Bleeken, who considered himself a “danger to society” and despaired that he would never be rehabilitated and would remain in prison, “sitting here until the end of time and rotting away...,” sought to die through euthanasia.
A board in charge of reviewing such requests began working on Van Den Bleeken’s case and ordered him to undergo psychological treatment prior to being put to death. He contended that he was suffering from a mental condition that could not be cured, because he would never be released from prison. His request was ...
The Louisiana federal district court overseeing the consent decree related to conditions at the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) has denied a motion by the City of New Orleans to nullify a contract to provide prisoner health care at the facility. The motion was the latest skirmish between city officials and Sheriff Marlin Gusman.
As previously reported in PLN, the court approved a consent judgment on October 21, 2013 to address the “stark, sometimes shocking deficiencies in OPP’s medical and mental health care system.” [See: PLN, June 2014, p.44]. To meet his obligations under the consent decree, Gusman entered into a five-year, $83 million contract with Nashville, Tennessee-based Correct Care Solutions (CCS), a for-profit company.
The city argued in its motion that the contract’s “exorbitant price tag” was “financially crippling.” While city officials had expressed significant concerns about the “overall cost, per diem price offering, and annual expenditure inflation rates” during the vetting process, they had never argued prior to the motion to terminate the CCS contract that Gusman lacked the authority to enter into it.
“Moving forward, not backward, is the only acceptable path to the Court,” the district court stated in its May 29, 2015 order ...
In 2012, Cornelius, a prisoner at a Florida state prison, wrote a letter to a nearby rape crisis center. Cornelius had been sexually assaulted multiple times while incarcerated. The first time was a gang rape that had happened 17 years earlier at a boot camp, when he was just 19 years old. Roughly a decade later, at a different facility, he was raped again. In his letter, Cornelius wrote about his history of abuse; he asked for support in coping with the pain he was still experiencing.
Maria, the crisis counselor who received Cornelius’ letter, desperately wanted to help him. But she couldn’t. (To protect confidentiality, Cornelius and Maria are both pseudonyms.) Maria’s organization – like the vast majority of victim services programs nationwide – relied on funding from the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), established in 1994. And, per federal guidelines, VOCA funds could not be used to assist any person who is incarcerated.
The VOCA funding restriction targeted a group of people who already face massive barriers to getting quality help. Medical and mental health care in prison are notoriously poor and underfunded. Most prisoner rape survivors don’t even attempt to access the subpar services that are ...
In another development in the macabre murder, rape and death penalty case of convicted killer David Steffen, a former Hamilton County, Ohio morgue worker admitted to engaging in sex with around 100 female corpses.
Kenneth Douglas acknowledged in a deposition that he had sex with the bodies – among them, the ...
The Rikers Island jail complex in New York City is notorious for excessive use of force against prisoners. It has been sued dozens of times by prisoners, prisoners’ rights organizations and even the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Prison Legal News has reported extensively on the numerous problems at Rikers, which culminated in a sweeping class-action settlement announced in June 2015. [See: PLN, July 2015, p.1].
As noted in the preamble to the 60-page consent decree entered by the federal district court, “The First and Second Amended Complaints alleged that the Department engages in a pattern and practice of using unnecessary force against inmates in violation of their rights, and the rights of the members of the Plaintiff Class, under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution....”
The class members alleged that guards physically abused and beat them, generally without provocation, inflicting grievous physical injuries, including broken bones.
Under the consent decree, the parties agreed to the appointment of correctional expert Steve J. Martin to monitor Rikers Island’s compliance with the terms of the agreement. Specifically, the consent decree includes “an explicit prohibition on the use of high impact force, including ... strikes or blows ...
by Bob Libal, Holly Kirby and Cristina Parker
In July 2016, executives from private prison companies Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group (GEO) held investor calls to report on second quarter earnings and to discuss their financial outlook going forward.
The calls demonstrated that policy reforms that reduce incarceration and immigrant detention are bad for private prison firms, and that criminal justice reform measures – including reductions in California’s prison population – are a threat to future profits. Both CCA and GEO officials also reported expansion of their interests in alternative areas of the correctional market, including reentry services, GPS monitoring and community corrections.
Family Detention Drives Profits
The investor calls revealed to shareholders of both companies what many in Texas already knew: Two massive lockups for refugee mothers and their children in South Texas have been key to record profitability for private prison companies since 2014. CCA’s Dilley detention camp and GEO Group’s Karnes County lockup have been lucrative sources of revenue for the companies, which have reported gains in every quarter since the facilities opened.
But continued record revenue from family detention is not guaranteed. The federal government’s policy of detaining immigrant families ...
According to prosecutors, an Anchorage man assaulted and robbed three men on Alaska’s sex offender registry, keeping a notebook that listed the names of his victims and the items he stole from them. Jason Christian Vukovich, 41, allegedly plotted the attacks as revenge for his victims’ “past crimes,” and carried out the assaults over a five-day period between June 25 and 29, 2016.
One of sex offenders he targeted, Wesley Demarest, who served time after pleading no contest to sexual abuse of a minor, said Vukovich called him by name and said “I’m an avenging angel. I’m going to mete out justice for the people you hurt,” before fracturing his skull with a hammer. Two other victims, sex offenders Charles Albee and Andres Barbosa, recounted that their assailant, a man with “shoulder-length hair and a black leather jacket,” told them he found them on the state’s sex offender registry. Vukovich was charged with three class A felonies, four class B felonies and 11 class C felonies. A judge set his bail at $100,000.
Attacks against sex offenders are not uncommon. In 2012, a Washington man was sentenced to life without parole for gunning down two ...
The business model of Advanced Correctional Healthcare, Inc. (ACH) includes “severe cost control measures” and reliance on the company’s insurance provider to cover liability verdicts that result from inadequate medical care, according to lawsuits filed by the estates of three pretrial detainees who died of easily treatable maladies at ...
If Oklahoma was hoping to establish a tradition or trend of botched executions, it brought in the right people to carry them out.
Just days after overseeing a disturbing execution at Arizona’s Florence prison complex in July 2014, former warden Lance Hetmer was hired as a special assistant to Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton, whose agency was responsible for its own botched lethal injection just three months earlier.
On July 23, 2014, Hetmer supervised the execution of Arizona death row prisoner Joseph Rudolph Wood, who was injected 15 times with an experimental combination of drugs that included midazolam and hydromorphone. According to witnesses, Wood snorted and gasped for air more than 600 times until he finally succumbed almost two hours later.
During the execution, attorneys for Wood – who was convicted of the 1989 shooting deaths of his former girlfriend and her father – filed an emergency motion with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to stop the procedure. But Wood died of an apparent heart attack before the court took any action.
The next day, Hetmer, who had monitored Wood’s execution alongside Arizona DOC Director Charles L. Ryan, retired from his position as warden. Four days later ...
The New York Attorney General found that Correctional Medical Care, Inc. (CMC) violated state law by engaging in the “corporate practice of medicine.” The finding resulted in a September 2014 settlement agreement that required the for-profit prison and jail medical care provider to restructure, hire an independent monitor and pay ...
Legislation in California, signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in September 2014, allows prisoners in the state’s 34 adult correctional facilities access to condoms.
With the signing of Assembly Bill 999 – also known as the Prisoner Protections for Family and Community Health Act – California became the third state in the nation, in addition to Vermont and Mississippi, to provide condoms to prisoners.
The state legislature passed the bill, authored by California Assemblyman Rob Bonta, in spite of a statute prohibiting sex between prisoners and concerns that the provision of condoms will encourage rape.
Bonta said the law was “a no-brainer” and “will literally save lives,” adding that condoms are “a low-cost method universally acknowledged to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and other STDs.”
In a February 2016 statement to Fox 26 KMPH, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) spokesman Joe Orlando emphasized the anticipated benefits of the law to California communities.
“Ninety percent of these guys are going to be sent home,” said Orlando. “So when they get back to the communities and to their families, let’s make it as safe as we possibly can.”
San Francisco has been passing out condoms in its jails ...
The California Medical Board placed a doctor on three years’ probation for removing the wrong kidney during surgery on a federal prisoner.
The unidentified 59-year-old prisoner, held at FCI Terminal Island, was diagnosed with a cancerous left kidney following a September 18, 2011 CAT scan. He was referred to Dr. Charles C. Streit at St. Jude’s Medical Center. Streit, who had been a physician and surgeon since 1973, specialized in urology. He examined the prisoner and scheduled surgery for February 7, 2012.
The standard of medical practice for the attending physician is to “preoperatively, positively identify, validate, and confirm the location and side of the patient’s disease process upon which the surgery is to be performed,” according to an accusation filed by the Medical Board. “Dr. Streit proceeded with surgery despite not having access to the patient’s medical records on the date of surgery. Lacking the chart, he had to rely solely on his personal recollection as to the location of the tumor.” The doctor also failed to “perform a preoperative renal ultrasound to confirm the location of the tumor.”
“It was our failure to follow our protocol regarding displaying the patient’s diagnostic images that ultimately ...
The City of Lowell, Massachusetts agreed to a $232,500 settlement in a civil rights action related to the alcohol poisoning death of a woman in the Lowell Police Department (LPD) lockup.
Police officers arrested Alyssa Brame, 31, on January 12, 2013 for allegedly offering sex for money. She “was ...
A purportedly non-profit organization run by a father-and-son team that operated methadone clinics and so-called “sober houses” across New York City faced indictments in October 2014 for stealing millions of dollars in public funds and fraudulent insurance claims.
Alan Brand, 64, and his son Jason, 35, who ran Narco Freedom – a drug rehab empire generating over $44 million in annual revenue – were arrested for allegedly using the money to buy flashy cars and luxury homes on the sunny beaches of Long Island and Florida.
Conditions at the sober houses, also known as three-quarter houses, rented by the Brands to more than 500 recovering addicts and alcoholics at any given time – many of them recently released from prison – were reportedly abysmal. [See: PLN, May 2014, p.1].
On March 18, 2015, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a superseding indictment that expanded on the initial charges and widened the number of indictments to include Narco Freedom’s then-CEO, Gerald Bethea, and controller, Richard Gross.
Alan and Jason Brand were also charged with a wide array of new offenses – including grand larceny, enterprise corruption, insurance fraud, commercial bribe receiving, violations of kickback law, conspiracy and money laundering.
Both Narco Freedom and ...
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of a Virginia prisoner’s civil rights action that raised claims related to his religious practices and medical care.
Prisoner Jesus Emmanuel Jehovah’s complaint alleged prison officials violated his free exercise rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) by 1) prohibiting him from consuming wine during communion, 2) requiring him to work on Sabbath days and 3) assigning him non-Christian cellmates. He also alleged deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
The Virginia federal district court overseeing the action dismissed Jehovah’s Sabbath, cell assignment and deliberate indifference claims under 28 U.S.C § 1915A and granted summary judgment to the defendants on the communion wine claim. Jehovah appealed.
The Fourth Circuit first addressed the Virginia Department of Corrections’ (VDOC) ban on communion wine. Jehovah “appears to adhere to his own particular brand of Christianity, citing to a version of the Bible written by himself,” the appellate court noted. His religious beliefs mandate “that he take communion by drinking red wine and consuming bread dipped in honey, olive oil, sugar, cinnamon and water.”
The parties agreed ...
Ongoing violations of prisoners’ rights at the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility (WGCF) led a federal district court to deny the Mississippi Department of Corrections’ (MDOC) motion to terminate a consent decree. The evidence, the court held on June 10, 2015, painted “a picture of a facility struggling with disorder, periodic mayhem, and staff ineptitude which leads to perpetual danger to the inmates and staff.”
WGCF, which housed youthful offenders, was operated by Management and Training Corp., a private prison firm. PLN previously reported the court’s entry of a consent decree “to resolve the allegations in the Complaint related to the protection from harm and violence, excessive use of force, punitive isolation and inadequate medical care.”
The district court found the facility, managed by the GEO Group at the time, had “allowed a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate, the sum of which places the offenders at substantial ongoing risk.” [See: PLN, Nov. 2013, p.30].
Since the entry of the consent decree in 2012, riots occurred at WGCF in December 2013 and July 2014. The events of the July 2014 riot were captured on video, and the court said they “can best be described as ...
“This is a systemic problem,” said attorney Dennis Steinman, who represented the widow of an Oregon prisoner murdered in his cell. “This is not only about Snake River. This is about the prisons statewide.” Steinman appears to be correct, given that at least seven Oregon prisoners were killed by fellow prisoners – most with gang ties – between May 2011 and December 2014.
Michael C. Hagen, 28, was transferred to the Snake River Correctional Institution (SRCI) in July 2010, where “inmate-on-inmate violence is prevalent” according to federal court filings. Hagen, who had never been incarcerated before, “attempted to stay out of trouble, avoid conflict as much as possible, and refused to fight even when provoked.”
In early 2011, a group of at least eight white supremacist gang members targeted Hagen for retaliation for refusing to serve as the gang’s tattoo artist. They claimed he was a snitch, according to a subsequent federal lawsuit. As a result Hagen was assaulted by his cellmates, seriously enough to be hospitalized on one occasion.
He repeatedly requested a transfer to another facility “because of his fear of being violently attacked by another inmate, including ... a member of the white prison gang,” a federal lawsuit alleged ...
Alabama: U.S. Attorney George L. Beck, Jr. called Chris Miles, the former assistant police chief for the town of Tallassee, Alabama, a “maverick” when Miles was sentenced on March 25, 2016 for beating a suspect during an interrogation, making false statements to the FBI and selling drugs. Miles had pleaded guilty in November 2015 to one count of deprivation of civil rights and two counts of false statements; he also admitted to a count of possession with intent to distribute for stealing approximately 16 pounds of marijuana from the police evidence room and selling it to a known drug dealer. U.S. District Court Judge Myron H. Thompson ordered Miles to serve 41 months in federal prison.
Alabama: Russell County jail guard Donna Michelle Ridgeway was arrested on March 16, 2016 and fired after a recorded conversation revealed she had tried to help a female prisoner plot to gain early release by performing oral sex on a male guard. The sex act did not occur, but the investigation resulted in a conspiracy to commit sodomy charge against Ridgeway. The former guard was initially booked into the Russell County jail but moved to another county due to security concerns. She ...