by Spencer Woodman, Chicago Reader
June 25, 2012, was a terrible day for Jermaine Robinson. Overall, life was good – the 21-year-old Washington Park resident had been studying music management at Columbia College and was a few weeks into a job working as a janitor at a nearby Boys & Girls Club. But his 13-year-old neighbor had been killed by random gunfire the previous day, and Robinson spent the evening at an emotional memorial service.
After the service ended around midnight, Robinson repaired to his girlfriend’s house on Rhodes Avenue to hang out with friends and to see his one-year-old daughter, he says. But just after midnight, he says, several Chicago police officers rammed down the side door of the house and burst into the living room.
Police would later say that they had spotted Robinson dashing from the front porch into the house holding a revolver. According to police reports, the officers found a handgun in the house, which they claimed belonged to Robinson. They arrested him and two other young men. At the precinct, in a cinderblock interrogation room, Robinson says he told police he was only visiting the home and knew nothing about the gun.
But by the time ...
by Paul Wright
Over the past 27 years we have reported extensively on abuses in local criminal justice systems in the United States, including jails, to the point that they are more ongoing sagas of abuse and corruption that we update with the latest developments. This month’s cover story on the justice system in Cook County, Illinois is no different. Prison Legal News and the Human Rights Defense Center are also suing the Cook County jail for its ban on books and magazines; it should come as no surprise that facilities which routinely violate the 8th and 14th Amendments also have little regard for the First Amendment right to free speech.
If you have experienced delays in your communications with HRDC/PLN in September, we apologize. Hurricane Irma swung by our main office in Lake Worth, Florida and paid us a visit. The good news is that all of our Florida staff are fine and our office was not physically damaged, though we were without electricity for several days and had no Internet or phone service for a week. The post office also was closed and did not deliver mail for almost a week. As this issue goes to press ...
In December 2016, the Kansas Supreme Court ordered the release of a man who had been held in jail more than four years awaiting trial under the Kansas Sexually Violent Predator Act (KSVPA). The state’s high court held that the unusual length of pretrial detention was a deprivation of liberty requiring due process protections.
Todd Ellison, a convicted sex offender, was subjected to involuntary commitment proceedings under the KSVPA following completion of his prison sentence. To civilly commit him, the state was required to convince a jury that Ellison suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder which makes him likely to engage in acts of sexual violence.
If probable cause is found, a trial must be held within 60 days. However, state law allows for continuances at the request of either party for good cause or by the court on its own motion. The state of Kansas filed a KSVPA petition against Ellison on June 1, 2009, and probable cause was found 24 days later. Thereafter, the record reflects numerous continuances were requested and granted, though many were unclear as to which party had sought them.
In addition, three different judges were assigned to the case, and at one ...
In January 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Henry T. Wingate sentenced Sam Waggoner, 62, to five years in prison for his role in a bribery scheme involving Mississippi’s former corrections commissioner. The sentence also included two years of supervised release.
Waggoner admitted to giving then-Mississippi DOC Commissioner Christopher B. Epps a portion of the money he earned as a prison telephone contractor. Waggoner told federal agents that before their investigation started, he wrote to Epps saying he wanted to end the payments.
“I don’t want the FBI knocking on my door in the middle of the night,” Waggoner said in the letter.
But Epps ripped the letter into “teeny, tiny pieces,” flushed it down a toilet and told him their arrangement would continue, Waggoner said. “He was basically my boss. He could hurt my business.”
At the time, in addition to serving as Commissioner of the Mississippi DOC, Epps was president of both the American Correctional Association (ACA) and Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA). [See: PLN, July 2016, p.1]. In 2011, the ASCA honored Epps with an award for Outstanding Corrections Commissioner.
Judge Wingate saw Waggoner’s attempt to end his involvement in the scheme as the result of a ...
by David Reutter
New technology is giving law enforcement agencies the ability to identify people by taking a photo of their tattoos; it can also group people with others who have the same type of body art.
Federal researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have launched a program to accelerate tattoo recognition technology. In 2014 and 2015, the Institute initiated its Tatt-C program, which stands for Tattoo Recognition Technology Challenge.
The project started with an FBI database containing 15,000 images of prisoner tattoos. The biometric database was shared by NIST with 19 participating organizations: five research institutions, six universities and eight private companies; the objective was to use their algorithms to create a database for law enforcement officials.
Five tests were involved in the Tatt-C project. The first was determining if an image contained a tattoo. With a reported 90% accuracy rate, it is evident that technology is already highly sophisticated. The highest result came from biometric technology company MorphoTrak.
Next, the participants were asked to match images of the same person’s tattoo. Overall, they reported more than 95% accuracy. MorphoTrak reported an accuracy rate of 94.6%, while Purdue University reported 91.6%.
by Christopher Zoukis
In March 2015, 53-year-old Ralph Karl Ingrim suffered a seizure at a Dollar General store in Amarillo, Texas. A store clerk was kind enough to call the police to have him removed. When they arrived, Ingrim allegedly became argumentative, placed his hand on an officer’s chest and was promptly arrested on a misdemeanor trespass charge.
When Ingrim’s mother, Serena Kincanon, became aware of her son’s arrest, she immediately traveled to the Randall County Jail and alerted guard Nick Wright of Ingrim’s medication needs. While she provided a list of her son’s necessary medications, Wright allegedly wadded up and threw away the notes. According to Kincanon, Wright told her the only recourse was to post Ingrim’s bond.
Kincanon left to arrange for her son’s release. But before she returned to the jail a few hours later, Ingrim had suffered a seizure in his cell. During the seizure he fell, fractured his skull and suffered a brain bleed. According to a lawsuit filed on Ingrim’s behalf on March 24, 2017, the seizure and fall resulted in “permanent and extremely severe” impairments. After two years of therapy, Ingrim’s reading ability didn’t surpass the third-grade level; he was declared legally incompetent ...
by David Reutter
In prison after prison across the state, over a period of two years, Florida state Representative David Richardson found that toilet paper, toothbrushes, toothpaste, pillows, sheets, shirts and soap were often withheld from prisoners, especially those in solitary confinement. Further, food had been denied as a form of punishment and medical conditions went untreated.
Richardson, a retired forensic auditor, has used his legislative authority to enter state prisons unannounced to view conditions without the “dog and pony show” typically provided to official guests. He presented his findings to his colleagues in the state House in April 2017 and urged them to require more accountability over Florida’s private prison contracts, offering a level of scrutiny not often seen on the floor of a legislative chamber.
“All nine contracts that I had audited had the numbers fudged,” Richardson declared moments before the House voted 89-26 for its draft of the 2017-2018 fiscal year budget.
Part of the problem, Richardson said, is that the agency in charge of monitoring private prison contracts – the Department of Management Services (DMS) – had no experience in corrections, making it susceptible to being “hoodwinked” by for-profit prison companies.
“I want one agency accountable ...
by Derek Gilna, Christopher Zoukis
The use of wearable electronic tracking devices for defendants and people on community supervision has risen sharply over the past decade. Cash-strapped municipalities like the reduced cost, which is much lower than a prison or jail bed and is often passed on to the device wearer. Those on electronic monitoring and their families prefer the freedom it grants them to remain together. And defense attorneys say non-incarcerated clients receive better criminal justice outcomes.
But there are difficulties with electronic monitoring. If the technology fails, a person can end up unfairly jailed. The devices are also startlingly easy to foil or remove, and when they are lost or damaged, or when a wearer fails to pay the monitoring fees, the costs for municipalities begin to eat away at the savings anticipated from electronic tracking systems. In addition, the practice of passing on monitoring fees to the wearers can leave them in a sort of debtor’s prison; in some cases, it’s more economical to stay in jail than run up a large monitoring bill.
According to a September 2016 report by Pew Charitable Trusts, more than 125,000 people were on electronic monitoring in 2015. That’s a ...
Last year the Vermont Supreme Court vacated four sex offender probation conditions, finding that they improperly delegated judicial authority to probation officers and were overbroad, unconstitutional or based upon insufficient findings.
In 2013, Owen Cornell was convicted of a sex offense and sentenced to two to six years in prison. The trial court suspended all but 20 months with credit for time served, and imposed a term of probation with 21 supervision conditions. Cornell appealed six of those conditions.
The Vermont Supreme Court invalidated four of the probation conditions; it also instructed that a fifth condition should be revised.
The Court first vacated a condition that required Cornell to participate in any treatment ordered by his probation officer, noting that the same condition had been struck down in State v. Putnam, 2015 VT 113, 130 A.3d 836 (Vt. 2015) as impermissibly delegating “open-ended authority” from the trial court to a probation officer.
“While it is permissible under Putnam to delegate authority to a probation officer to select among a predetermined list of programming options relevant to a defendant’s particular needs,” the state Supreme Court held it could not “approve the delegation of ‘full authority’ to impose counseling or ...
A "prophetic" U.S. Surgeon General's report that warned of a coming crisis with mentally ill prisoners and prison health care in general, suppressed by the Bush administration, was only released in mid-2016.
The 2006 document, titled “The Surgeon General: Call to Action on Corrections and Community Health,” was prepared by then-Surgeon General Richard Carmona. It urged action by the government and community leaders to develop a treatment strategy for sick and addicted prisoners following their release, or face worsening public health care burdens.
The 49-page report recommended enhanced medical screenings for arrestees and their victims; better surveillance of diseases in prisons; and ready access to community-based medical, mental health and substance abuse prevention programs for released prisoners.
“The correctional health report is pointing out the inadequacies of health care within our correctional health care system,” Dr. Carmona said. “It would force the government on a course of action to improve that.”
However, as PLN reported at the time, the report was mothballed by the government and not publicly released. [See: PLN, Aug. 2007, p.6]. In recent years, PLN has also reported on the burgeoning population of prisoners who suffer from mental illness.
Substance abuse ...
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that an Illinois prisoner’s claims regarding a rodent infestation were prematurely dismissed because he presented triable issues of fact for a jury.
Illinois state prisoner Marcos Gray was confined at the Stateville Correctional Center for 15 years, in apparently deplorable conditions.
“He sees cockroaches at least every other day, and sometimes as often as every few minutes. Birds fly and nest all over the prison, leaving their droppings on the floors and wall,” he alleged in his federal lawsuit, writing in the third person. “Mice are often in Gray’s cell, where they eat his food. The cell house is also infested with ants, spiders, flies, gnats, moths, and mosquitoes.”
The birds and other pests entered through broken windows and holes in the walls that prison officials had not bothered to repair, according to Gray.
Prison officials also denied prisoners adequate cleaning supplies. “Gray receives only one towel, which is replaced every eight months; he also gets some watered-down disinfectant spray. He does not have access to mops, brooms, or buckets, and he is not permitted to store chemicals such as soap in his cell,” he wrote. “He is allowed to ...
by Panagioti Tsolkas
Two years ago, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), which publishes Prison Legal News, introduced the concept of prison environmentalism, building off the work of jailhouse lawyers, scholars and activists around the country. On many occasions spanning the last four decades of mass incarceration in the U.S. – in which prison populations increased nationally by 700% – prisoners and their advocates had noted environmental concerns in local battles involving prison operations and efforts to stop new prison construction.
In 2015, HRDC decided that the problem was far beyond the scope of local campaigns and launched the Prison Ecology Project to address the issue on a national level.
This summer, the Office of Environmental Justice, part of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), formally announced that it would be including the location of correctional facilities in its updated EJSCREEN mapping tool.
In August and September 2017, the EPA hosted online webinars about the agency’s new EJSCREEN map which, at the request of the Prison Ecology Project and over 130 other groups and activists, now includes more than 6,000 prisons, jails and other detention facilities.
This is a major victory; it means that anyone can now easily see ...
by Derek Gilna
In December 2016, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), a watchdog agency within the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), issued an audit of the federal Bureau of Prisons’ contract with private prisoner company CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, to operate the Adams County Correctional Center.
That 2,232-bed facility, located in Natchez, Mississippi, gained notoriety in May 2012 following a major riot that left one prison employee dead. [See: PLN, June 2014, p.48]. A post-riot report recommended changes, which the OIG’s 2016 audit found still hadn’t been completed. Further, according to the audit, CoreCivic had not been held accountable by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The Inspector General wrote it was “deeply concerned” that the Adams facility remained “plagued by the same significant deficiencies” that had sparked the deadly riot.
The audit directly echoed the findings of a multi-part investigation released earlier this year by The Nation, in partnership with the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute, which uncovered serious problems at the Adams facility and 10 other privately-operated federal prisons used to incarcerate non-citizens convicted of crimes. The investigation found that CoreCivic had failed for years to correct inadequacies in the ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Kevin O'Loughlin was wrongfully convicted of raping an 11-year-old girl in 1983. He spent almost four years in prison, where he endured multiple assaults – all for a crime he did not commit.
Then a convicted rapist confessed that he was “99 percent sure” he had committed the sexual assault for which O’Loughlin was convicted. O’Loughlin filed for compensation from the State of Massachusetts, but despite the confession and other evidence pointing to his innocence, the state refused to pay and the case will soon go to trial.
At stake is a payment of up to $500,000 provided under Massachusetts’ wrongful conviction compensation statute. Since the law was passed in 2004, 27 people have received a total of $8.34 million, in sums ranging from $60,000 to the half-million maximum.
But unlike the criminal trial that landed O’Laughlin in prison – in which prosecutors had the burden of proving his guilt – a claimant under the state’s compensation law must prove his or her innocence, following a multi-step process.
Initially, a court must agree either that the claimant received a full pardon or had his or her conviction overturned in a manner that “tends ...
On July 20, 2017, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) filed a federal lawsuit against the Kentucky Department of Corrections for violating its free speech, due process and equal protection rights.
HRDC, a Florida-based non-profit organization and publisher of Prison Legal News, contended that the Kentucky DOC was guilty of censoring books sent to prisoners, violating equal protection laws by selectively blocking some materials but not others, and infringing upon the organization’s due process rights by not allowing HRDC to appeal censorship decisions.
Specifically, HRDC stated in its complaint that prison officials had unconstitutionally blocked the delivery of numerous books mailed to Kentucky state prisoners, including the Prisoner Diabetes Handbook, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of Law and the Prisoners’ Self-Help Litigation Manual, among others. Dozens of books sent to prisoners over a 12-month period were censored. On several occasions, HRDC received notices indicating the books were rejected for a variety of reasons, such as having “colored paper/envelope/ink,” “stickers,” being a “free book” or “not directly [sent] from publisher or authorized distributor.”
Kentucky DOC policies ban books not directly purchased by prisoners; they also ban books from publishers not included on a pre-approved vendor list. Those practices ...
by David Reutter
Virginia has more than 3,500 prisoners eligible for parole, representing over 9% of its prison population of 38,000 – a significant number considering that the state abolished parole over 20 years ago. Still, even for those long-serving prisoners who are still eligible, the odds of being granted parole are slim.
Virginia ended parole in 1995 during the heyday of the “tough on crime” era. Prisoners sentenced since then have been required to serve their full prison term, less good time credits. This is one of the more restrictive examples of punitive “truth in sentencing” laws that were enacted in exchange for federal prison construction grants under the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. The Act provided funding to states that required certain prisoners to serve at least 85% of their sentences, on average.
The over 3,500 offenders in Virginia’s prison system sentenced before the 1995 law went into effect have been subject to a parole board that emphasizes “self protection” by making “cautious” decisions. The chairwoman until recently was Karen Brown, a prosecutor for 16 years; the four current members include a former public defender, a city councilman and prison official, an ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Lucky 8 TV is a production company that produces “Behind Bars: Rookie Year” – a reality show about first-time prison guards – and thus requires access to a prison for filming. What better way to gain access than to hire someone from the corrections department to help facilitate such arrangements?
A recent report released by the New Mexico State Auditor’s Office found that Alex Sanchez, former deputy secretary and public information officer for the New Mexico Corrections Department, was hired by Lucky 8 for about 5 months and then returned to work for the department. Upon her return, Sanchez participated in the determination of what Lucky 8 owed for filming rights in a state prison. According to the February 24, 2017 audit, that arrangement amounted to a conflict of interest.
All told, at least $20,000 in fees were waived by Sanchez after her short stint as a Lucky 8 employee. The audit specifically referenced emails between Sanchez and the production company concerning the fees.
“The involvement of this employee in the determination of amounts billed and fees waived appears to be a conflict of interest as not all of the decisions appear to be in the ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Stung by a series of lawsuits filed across the nation challenging the practice of jailing people unable to pay court fees and fines, Texas legislators passed a law that requires judges to offer community service alternatives to low-income defendants convicted of offenses where the maximum punishment is a fine. The law went into effect on September 1, 2017.
One lawsuit, filed on behalf of five indigent plaintiffs in June 2017, alleges that Lexington County, South Carolina has been engaging in the equivalent of modern-day “debtors’ prisons” by issuing arrest warrants for people unable to pay court-ordered fees or fines for minor infractions such as parking tickets, then jailing them without offering them legal counsel or determining whether they have the ability to pay in the first place.
Another suit, filed in September 2015, seeks to overturn the entire system of court-ordered fines and fees in Orleans Parish, Louisiana, which are used to finance court operations. In an attempt to resolve the class-action case, Orleans Parish judges voided $1 million in unpaid fines in July 2017, hoping to satisfy the plaintiffs while leaving the current system intact.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed debtor’s prisons in the ...
by Christopher Zoukis
The regional jail system in West Virginia receives and screens about 300,000 pieces of mail per year. Some letters contain illegal substances being smuggled into facilities for prisoners, particularly subuxone; in response, the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety has implemented a new rule meant to foil such attempts.
The rule, which was reported by USA Today on March 27, 2017, is simple and straightforward: All incoming mail is shredded.
Of course, prisoners have a constitutional right to receive mail. So West Virginia regional jail officials are photocopying all incoming mail, shredding the original and distributing the copies to prisoners.
The Virginia Department of Corrections instituted a similar rule on April 17, 2017. According to VDOC official Lisa Kinney, nine prisoners have died since 2015 due to heroin overdoses; she also noted that drugs were intercepted in the mail a dozen times last year.
“These policy updates are a result of what we’ve seen,” Kinney said.
In an attempt to curtail smuggling during contact visitation, the VDOC also implemented a new policy that requires prisoners to strip out prior to a visit and put on state-issued clothing, including fresh underwear and socks ...
The GEO Group -- one of the nation's largest private prison firms, which is frequently the subject of scandal arising from repeated human rights violations at its for-profit facilities – has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought against the company in 2015 by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ...
The Ninth Circuit vacated a summary judgment order in favor of Arizona jail officials in a case that involved a pregnant prisoner who was restrained while she was in labor and after she gave birth.
Miriam Mendiola-Martinez was six months pregnant when she was arrested for forgery and identity theft ...
by Derek Gilna
Charles Murphy, an Illinois state prisoner housed at the Vandalia Correctional Center, raised the ire of several guards on July 25, 2011 when he refused to eat at a dining hall table and chair he maintained were wet. Cuffed without incident and led to segregation, he was reportedly beaten while restrained, choked into unconsciousness and thrown into a cell, striking his head on a metal toilet and suffering shattered facial bones.
Unconscious and bleeding heavily, he was eventually examined by a prison nurse who ordered him transported to a hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery to repair the orbital bones around his eye. Murphy claimed that in addition to the pain he experienced, he continues to suffer from blurred and double vision.
He filed a federal civil rights suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the guards who beat him and also raised state law claims. Following a jury trial, he prevailed on four of his claims and was awarded around $410,000 in compensatory and punitive damages against guard Robert Smith and Lt. Gregory Fulk. The district court reduced that amount to $307,734.82, and also awarded $110,643.66 in attorney fees ...
by Christopher Zoukis
The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed a district court’s ruling that held a jail detainee’s excessive force and assault and battery claims could not go forward.
Henry M. Davis was arrested in Ferguson, Missouri for driving while intoxicated between 3 and 4 a.m. on September 20, 2009. During the booking process, he was instructed to enter an occupied, one-person cell without a mat. Davis refused unless provided a mat from a nearby stack. Officers John Beaird and Christopher Pillarick called for backup and Officers Michael White, Kim Tihen and William Ballard responded. A “short, bloody fight” ensued, and Davis and White were hospitalized.
Later testimony indicated that White, Beaird and Tihen beat and kicked Davis after he was handcuffed and subdued on the floor. After the incident, Beaird drafted four complaints, each charging Davis with the offense of “property damage” for getting blood on the officers’ uniforms.
Following his release from the hospital, Davis sued the officers and the City of Ferguson. He asserted 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against the officers for use of excessive force; he sued the city for municipal liability and Beaird individually for filing false complaints ...
by Derek Gilna
After numerous failed inspections and failures to perform necessary maintenance, the jail in Estill County, Kentucky was forced to close by order of state correctional officials on March 31, 2017. Approximately two dozen prisoners were transferred to other facilities. This is the second time the county jail has been involuntarily closed; the first was for health code violations.
Approximately two weeks before the most recent closure, state correctional officials said the jail had failed its final inspection, largely due to its inability to make repairs to its sprinkler and smoke evacuation systems. Jailer Bo Morris said the facility simply lacked the funds needed to make those repairs.
According to Estill County Judge-Executive Wallace Taylor, the county is able to place prisoners at other jails, including in Bourbon, Clay, Jackson, Lee and Powell counties, for $25 to $35 a day excluding transportation costs.
Morris was critical of the jail’s closure, saying, “I need my job. I’ve got bills to pay. But if he don’t want to give me what I need to do this and do it right, I’ll give him my keys and walk out the door.”
Judge Taylor indicated he had appealed to the Kentucky ...
Privatizing more prisons will not save Louisiana money now or in the long run, according to the state’s Public Safety and Corrections Secretary, Jimmy LeBlanc. LeBlanc is opposed to House Concurrent Resolution 30, proposed by state Rep. Jack McFarland, which would require the prison system to report by the end of 2017 whether turning over the management of five additional prisons to for-profit companies would result in cost savings.
Much of the assumed savings would come from paying guards and other staff lower wages, LeBlanc said, which would make it harder to recruit and retain good employees. The state already struggles to retain staff due to low wages; the starting salary for a Louisiana prison guard is $24,300 per year. A privately-operated prison would likely reduce wages even more, he noted.
News of more privatization unnerved staff at some facilities. “It doesn’t help with the morale of the prison system,” LeBlanc said in a May 17, 2017 statement. Prison guards already have the highest turnover rate among state employees.
Private companies operate two Louisiana state prisons: the Allen Correctional Center, run by GEO Group, and the Winn Correctional Center, managed by LaSalle Corrections. McFarland’s bill would add another ...
by Nathalie Graham, Seattle Weekly
Fifteen months in prison, three years of probation. A $30,000 fine. Sue Mason paid her debt to society long ago – 14 years, to be exact – yet, it feels like she’s still doing her time.
“I get reconvicted over and over,” Mason said during public comment on August 14, 2017 at City Hall. “Even after I’ve had housing, even after I’ve been employed for years and then to have somebody say, ‘no, you don’t deserve housing, it hasn’t been long enough.’ What we’re talking about is discrimination. Period.”
For Mason, and the other one-in-three people in Seattle with a criminal record, it can be extremely difficult to find housing.
The Seattle City Council hopes that will be changing soon with the unanimous passage of the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance.
The legislation will reduce barriers to housing for people with a criminal record by barring landlords from turning away potential tenants simply because they have past arrests or a criminal conviction.
The bill has a long history, beginning in 2013 when councilmembers Mike O’Brien and Nick Licata addressed the issue by removing barriers at publicly-funded housing. It then reappeared as a ...
by Derek Gilna
The family of deceased prisoner Jimmy Richardson filed a federal lawsuit against the Schenectady County Jail in New York in April 2017, alleging that the facility and its medical contractor, Correctional Medical Care, wrongfully withheld medication that could have prevented his death.
The complaint alleges that the defendants knew Richardson, 53, suffered from heart disease, but initially denied him his prescription medication when he was booked into the jail, resulting in his death on January 17, 2016.
“While [Richardson] was obviously not the healthiest person, he had been successfully managing his medical conditions for several years. It was not until the defendants denied him his medication for several weeks ... that [he] died,” the complaint states. It also alleges that jail medical records purporting to show Richardson received medication were falsified.
Richardson had submitted various sick call requests, stating, “I am Hurting so Bad I need Help!” Jail records indicate that he did not receive any pain medication other than Tylenol until shortly before he died, when the lawsuit claims that he received excessive doses of morphine. The suit also alleges that on the eve of his death, Richardson sought medical care but instead was threatened ...
by Christopher Zoukis
In March 2016, the Fourth Circuit reversed a district court’s dismissal of a prisoner’s Eighth Amendment failure to protect claim in a case that subsequently settled.
The prisoner, James Herman Raynor, was held at the Sussex II State Prison in Virginia. In November 2012, Raynor, who suffers from seizures, blackouts, heart issues and breathing problems, asked to be moved to a different cell with a “caretaker” who had volunteered to help him with his various medical needs. As is typical, his request was ignored.
Raynor renewed his request on January 10, 2013 with G. Pugh, his Housing Manager. That same day Pugh told Raynor that he was going to move his cellmate, K. Mullins, instead.
Mullins did not take kindly to that plan, and in front of Pugh allegedly told Raynor “it’s on,” and that they were both “going to seg.” According to Raynor, Pugh said he didn’t care what Mullins did and ordered the two men into a cell.
Housing Manager Pugh then watched as Mullins pummeled Raynor to the floor and smashed his television. According to Raynor’s complaint, Pugh didn’t call for assistance or do anything until after the attack was over.
by Derek Gilna
A December 2, 2016 decision by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, overturning a finding by the Merit Systems Protection Board, has cast in doubt the operations of the chief internal investigative body of the U.S. Department of Justice – the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) – as well as the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).
In its ruling, the appellate court sided with Troy W. Miller, the former chief supervisor of the BOP’s prison industries program at a federal facility in Texas, who claimed that his rights under the federal Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) had been violated after he exposed alleged wrongdoing in the handling of BOP funds and the manufacture of products by prisoners.
According to the Court of Appeals, “Mr. Miller worked as the Superintendent of Industries, level GS-13, at the Federal Correctional Complex, Beaumont, Texas. In this capacity, Mr. Miller oversaw a prison factory that produced ballistic helmets primarily for military use.” While serving in that capacity he received numerous accolades that highlighted his talent at managing the use of prisoner labor.
However, as previously reported by PLN, the federal prison industries program, also known as UNICOR, has been the ...
by David Reutter
In 2005, at the urging of then-Governor Mitch Daniels, the Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) awarded a contract to privatize medical care for prisoners. The winning bidder, Prison Health Services, merged in 2011 with Correctional Medical Services to form Corizon Health, which later won renewal of a three-year, $300 million contract to provide medical, dental, vision, mental health and substance abuse treatment services to IDOC’s 28,000 prisoners.
In February 2017, however, state prison officials declined to renew Corizon’s contract, instead awarding it to Wexford Health Sources. Consequently, Corizon announced the following month that it planned to lay off almost 700 employees in 22 IDOC facilities. [See: PLN, Sept. 2017, p.32].
PLN has reported extensively on Corizon and the company’s business model, which appears to consist of delaying or denying medical care and reducing staffing costs to increase profits; in turn, that has resulted in numerous prisoner deaths and injuries. [See, e.g.: PLN, Oct. 2015, p.20; March 2014, p.1].
Yet the IDOC’s watchdog over Corizon’s contractual performance was a former Corizon employee.
Dr. Michael Mitcheff was working as an emergency room physician at two Indiana hospitals when, in 1994, he was investigated for ...
by David Reutter
In a preliminary consent order, Sentinel Offender Services, a private probation company, agreed to stop its practice of drug testing probationers without court approval. The order was entered in a class-action case challenging Sentinel’s practices in a Georgia county that uses the company to manage its probation ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Four former U.S. Navy veterans wrongly convicted of the rape and murder of an 18-year-old woman have been granted full pardons by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.
Eric Wilson, Danial Williams, Derek Tice and Joseph Dick, Jr., known as the “Norfolk Four,” were arrested for raping and killing Michelle Moore-Bosko in 1997. Based almost entirely on false confessions, Williams, Tice and Dick were convicted of both crimes and sentenced to life in prison. Wilson, convicted of rape, received eight-and-a-half years.
After an investigation revealed that the confessions were coerced by detective Glenn Ford – who is serving 12 years in prison for lying to the FBI in unrelated cases – and that another man had confessed to the crime, Virginia authorities took another look at the Norfolk Four.
Concluding that crime scene and forensic evidence overwhelmingly pointed to the guilt of Omar Ballard, the suspect who had confessed, then-Governor Tim Kaine conditionally pardoned Williams, Tice and Dick after they had served 11 years. Wilson, who had already been released, was not pardoned at that time.
The failure to pardon Wilson meant that he remained a registered sex offender despite having been wrongfully convicted. As a result ...
by Brian Dolinar, Truthout
The election of Donald Trump has already given an economic boost to those profiting from mass incarceration. The stock prices of the two biggest private prison builders – CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) and GEO Group – doubled after Trump took office.
Companies that charge for expensive phone calls from prisons and jails also won big after Trump’s victory. One of the president’s first appointments placed Ajit Pai at the helm of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), who promptly rolled back the agency’s 2015 decision to regulate the prison phone industry. The companies hailed it as a victory.
Shortly after the FCC’s reversal, Securus, one of the largest prison phone companies, announced it was being sold to Platinum Equity, a large investment firm for a reported $1.5 billion. (To date the deal has not been finalized.) Tom Gores, Platinum’s founder and CEO, is an investment mogul who also owns the Detroit Pistons. In 2011, Gores purchased the basketball team with the stated intent of improving the struggling city.
In the United States’ current economy, prisons and basketball are growth industries. Both profit from the exploitation of black bodies, pulling in people from poor neighborhoods in major ...
by Joe Watson
An Internal Revenue Service audit of tax-free bonds used to develop an immigrant detention facility in New Mexico was closed once the bonds were converted to taxable status.
Otero County issued $62.3 million in tax-free revenue bonds in 2007 to finance the construction of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) processing center in Chaparral, New Mexico. The facility is operated by a private company, Utah-based Management & Training Corp.
Over the past several years, the IRS has been conducting similar audits at local jails that contract to house prisoners for the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) or ICE. Under the tax code, the federal government is considered a private party, and private parties do not qualify for tax-free status. USMS and ICE officials have signed contracts with jails nationwide to house detainees in state and local bond-financed facilities, leading to tax disputes between the bond issuers and the IRS. [See: PLN, Sept. 2015, p.18].
According to the Bond Buyer, a trade publication, “the tax code classifies a bond as a private activity bond (PAB) if more than 10% of the proceeds are used for a private party and more than 10% of debt service payments ...
A settlement was reached last year in a lawsuit brought by the estate of a teenager who hanged himself at a Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facility. The complaint described a chilling account of neglect of a child known to be a suicide risk.
The suit was brought by ...
by David Reutter
Two federal district courts, one in Florida and the other in Rhode Island, have held prison gerrymandering unconstitutional, though one of the orders was overturned on appeal. The rulings are the first of their kind.
“This is a big win for democracy,” said Adam Lioz of the Washington, D.C.-based public policy group Demos, who assisted in representing the Rhode Island plaintiffs. “Prison gerrymandering distorts representation and should no longer be tolerated. This decision should pave the way for other courts to address this long-standing problem.”
Both cases were brought alleging violation of the U.S. Constitution’s requirement of “one person, one vote.” They asserted that prison gerrymandering, in which prisoners are counted as residents of the district where they are incarcerated, watered down the strength of residents’ political representation by bolstering the power of residents who lived in the same district as non-voting, unrepresented prisoners. [See: PLN, Dec. 2012, p.1].
The Florida case challenged the inclusion of 1,157 prisoners held at the Jackson Correctional Institution (JCI), which is in a rural county in Florida’s panhandle. The Rhode Island case took issue with 3,433 prisoners housed at the Adult Correctional ...
A South Carolina Appellate Court held that prisoners’ grievances were not subject to a 15-day filing deadline because they did not concern an “incident” but rather challenged the South Carolina Department of Corrections’ (SCDC) policies or procedures.
The ruling was issued in a lawsuit brought by 196 current or former prisoners who participated in a prison industry program involving Williams Technologies, Inc. (WTI) at the Lieber Correctional Institution. They had filed grievances arguing they were entitled under state law to receive prevailing wages for the work they performed.
Prison officials denied the grievances on the merits and for failing to file them within 15 days as required by paragraph 12.1 of Policy GA-01.12. An order from the South Carolina Administrative Law Court upheld the denial, and the prisoners appealed.
The contract between WTI and the SCDC required the company to pay prison officials $4.00 per hour per prisoner, with a base wage of $0.35 per hour. Effective July 1, 1995, South Carolina law required that prisoners employed in industry programs receive no less than “the prevailing wage for work of [a] similar nature in the private sector.”
However, the legislature changed that law, effective July ...
by Derek Gilna
Rahim McWilliams, an Illinois state prisoner, injured his hand in a fall and filed a claim in federal court for damages, claiming lack of proper medical treatment and permanent disfigurement. He alleged he was indigent and sought a waiver of the filing fee with an in forma pauperis (IFP) form. The district court, citing the absence of some identifying information on the form, as well as contradictory language as to funds McWilliams had received, denied the IFP request and dismissed the case for failure to pay the filing fee. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded.
In a January 5, 2017 ruling, the appellate court noted that McWilliams had used a court-provided IFP form which included various boxes the applicant must check. It also required “prisoner applicants to provide an inmate identification number, the name of the applicant’s institution, and records from the applicant’s inmate trust account.” McWilliams had answered all the questions but neglected to name his institution and identification number.
He had also indicated on the IFP form, in response to a query as to whether he or anyone living at the same residence had received in excess of $200 from other sources not specifically ...
The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held a district court erred in denying a prisoner’s motion for extension of time to respond to a dispositive motion.
Oklahoma state prisoner Archie Rachel, 71, filed suit in federal court regarding his medical treatment at the James Crabtree Correctional Center (JCCC). According to the district court, he alleged that “(1) he routinely had to wait outdoors in adverse conditions to receive his medications, (2) he received inadequate care from the prison’s medical staff, and (3) the prison’s grievance procedure was unfair.”
During the litigation, Rachel was given only “21 days to seek discovery, obtain and review responses that were not even due within the 21-day period, and respond to the defendants’ motion for dismissal or summary judgment.”
He moved for an extension of time, asserting that he only had a few hours in the law library each week. The district court did not rule on his motion so Rachel was forced to respond without the benefit of the requested discovery. The court dismissed his suit and he appealed.
The Tenth Circuit found the issue was whether Rachel showed good cause entitling him to the requested extension of time. It held ...
by David Reutter
The Eleventh Circuit held last year that a district court erred in finding the dismissals of a prisoner’s prior civil rights actions due to “lack of jurisdiction” and for “want of prosecution” counted as strikes under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). The Court of Appeals further held the district court abused its discretion in denying the prisoner in forma pauperis status.
That ruling came in an appeal brought by Georgia prisoner Waseem Daker, who alleged that prison officials were violating his civil rights by denying him the use of a law library and time for Muslim religious practices. The district court agreed with the Georgia Department of Corrections that six previous filings by Daker were frivolous and counted as strikes under the PLRA; on that basis, and after finding he was not indigent, his case was dismissed.
On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit acknowledged that Daker was “a serial litigator” serving a life sentence who “has submitted over a thousand pro se filings in over a hundred actions and appeals in at least nine different federal courts.” To determine whether “Daker’s six dismissals for lack of jurisdiction and want of prosecution qualify as strikes under the ...
by Derek Gilna
William A. Miller, incarcerated at FCC Terre Haute, a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facility in Indiana, entered prison with a serious health problem – a thalamic brain tumor that required a lower bunk assignment, or “pass,” issued by prison medical officials. He was initially given a lower-bunk pass, but for reasons unknown, a year later was assigned an upper bunk. While in that bunk he fell and fractured his back.
Before BOP prisoners can obtain judicial relief they must go through the administrative remedy process and file what are known as “BP’s.” After his complaints to lead guard Gary Rogers went unanswered, Miller filed administrative remedies, which were all denied, then brought a Bivens action that named Rogers, Warden Helen Marberry and a nurse as defendants.
Rogers and Marberry moved for summary judgment, arguing that neither was personally responsible for issuing the lower bunk pass that would have prevented Miller’s debilitating fall (nor was the nurse responsible). The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants, dismissing the case, and Miller died in June 2016 while the litigation was pending.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal on January 30, 2017, but not without controversy. According ...
The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the non-exhaustion dismissal of a New York prisoner’s excessive force suit. Applying Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850 (2016) [PLN, July 2016, p.22], the appellate court held that no administrative remedies were “available” under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) when prison officials failed to process a grievance.
During a search, New York prisoner Mark Williams asked a guard to stop reading his legal work. The guard told Williams to sit down; he did so, but continued to “admonish” her.
Two other guards grabbed Williams and dragged him to another room out of sight of video cameras and other prisoners. They then assaulted him, pushing his forehead against a wall and kicking and stomping him.
One guard, Gammone, allegedly grabbed Williams and said “this is what running your mouth gets you” as he punched him in the right eye. Williams fell to the ground and another guard, Priatno, kicked his face and head.
Williams was confined in the special housing unit (SHU) after being treated for injuries to his head, knee, eye, elbow, lower back, jaw and nose. Since the assault he has received medication for anxiety and panic ...
HIV-positive prisoners in Louisiana jails are not provided medication and basic services, which endangers both their health and the communities they return to upon release. That was one of the findings of “Paying the Price: Failure to Deliver HIV Services in Louisiana Parish Jails,” a report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in 2016.
HRW interviewed over 100 people, including representatives of organizations involved in HIV and health services related to the criminal justice system. It concluded that “Louisiana is ‘ground zero’ for the dual epidemics of HIV and incarceration.”
Baton Rouge and New Orleans lead the country in new HIV infections each year, and the death rate “from AIDS in Louisiana is among the highest in the U.S.,” the report found. “As of January 2016, the Louisiana Department of Corrections [LDOC] housed 525 prisoners with HIV.”
Louisiana also has the highest state incarceration rate in the nation. “At any given point in time, roughly 1 in 75 Louisiana adults are in jail or prison,” according to the report. The intersection between HIV and incarceration occurs because “[o]ne out of seven people living with HIV will enter a jail or prison each ...
by David Reutter
The use of prisoner labor and poor prison conditions are behind calls for action in Texas and Alabama, and have led to concerns over the use of prison labor nationwide.
Most people believe slavery was abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but that amendment includes an exception clause which permits slavery “as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted....”
Prison Legal News has long advocated against the use of prisoner slave labor, including in prison industry programs, where workers toil for scanty wages or none at all, often in unsafe conditions. [See: PLN, Sept. 2017, p.60].
Texas Correctional Industries (TCI), which was created in 1963, is one of the most egregious offenders. TCI produces “mattresses, shoes, garments, brooms, license plates, printed materials, janitorial supplies, soaps, detergents, furniture, textile, and steel products,” according to its website. It provides prison-made products to a variety of government agencies.
Yet TCI pays most of its prisoner workers nothing – unless they are employed in industry programs that partner with private, for-profit businesses.
“Texas’s prisoners are the slaves of today, and that slavery affects our society economically, morally and political ...
by David Reutter
The Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) must provide prisoners with the option of receiving kosher meals, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held in affirming a district court’s grant of summary judgment and a permanent injunction.
As previously reported in PLN, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the FDOC in 2012 under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) to obtain declaratory and injunctive relief requiring state prison officials to provide kosher meals. [See: PLN, May 2014, p.14].
The FDOC put its full strength into fighting the suit, costing taxpayers nearly $500,000. In its July 14, 2016 ruling, the Eleventh Circuit began by noting the FDOC’s flip-flopping on the provision of kosher meals since 2004, culminating in a pilot program at the Union Correctional Institution in 2011.
“The only choice for prisoners outside the pilot program with [orthodox] religious obligations was, in the words of one prisoner, to ‘[d]o what a hungry man does, and pray  for understanding,’” the Court of Appeals wrote.
The district court’s December 2013 preliminary injunction, which later became a permanent injunction, changed the legal landscape by ordering the FDOC to provide kosher meals and ...
by David Reutter
Increasingly, criminal justice reformers are pushing for “ban-the-box” policies, ordinances and statutes, which are intended to eliminate from job applications the box that asks, “Have you been convicted of a felony?” [See: PLN, March 2017, p.26; Oct. 2014, p.46]. Many jurisdictions have adopted such policies, but a new study found they may help those with felony records while hurting people of color who lack criminal histories.
Twenty-three states have passed ban-the-box laws for public government jobs; nine apply the law to private employers, too. In November 2015, President Obama directed federal agencies to remove the felony question box from their job applications. [See: PLN, Jan. 2016, p.41].
Sonja Starr, a professor of law at the University of Michigan, and Amanda Agan, a professor of economics at Princeton, conducted a study to determine the effectiveness of ban-the-box policies. The study examined callback rates for 15,000 job applicants seeking actual low-skill, entry-level positions in a variety of industries at 4,300 businesses.
The job positions were located in New Jersey and New York, both before and after those states enacted ban-the-box laws in 2015. The fictitious applicants were 21-22 years old and randomly assigned ...
by David Reutter
Criminal justice reform advocates are pushing back against a new trend to “always believe the victim” in sexual assault cases, which has given rise to “victim-centered and offender-focused” investigations.
The victim-centric trend has led to a 20-point manifesto called the “You Have Options” law enforcement program, which encourages a departure from traditional police investigative techniques.
One of the points allows the “victim or other reporting party [to] remain anonymous” – which makes it hard for the accused to address the claims of their unknown accuser. Another allows victims to “report using an online form or a victim may choose to have a sexual assault advocate report on their behalf.”
Disturbingly, another point requires investigators to “collaborate with victims during the investigative process and respect a victim’s right to request certain investigative steps not be conducted.” For example, the alleged victim may ask that witnesses not be interviewed.
The University of Texas (UT) created a new blueprint to train campus law enforcement officers when conducting sexual assault investigations. According to Samantha Harris of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the most egregious directive in the blueprint is that traditionally “neutral” investigators should actively work to ...
by Derek Gilna
Cynthia Louis Hobbs was convicted, along with her husband, of aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and sentenced to 56 months in prison and five years of supervised release. After she left prison in November 2014, her supervised release was uneventful until her husband was released. In January 2016, federal officials sought to revoke her supervised release for numerous violations.
During the subsequent revocation proceedings, the government sought an order of “no contact” with Hobbs’ husband, alleging that her violations were somehow linked to her husband’s release. The district court judge agreed, noting that “My understanding from speaking with the probation officer and reviewing the record, is that Ms. Hobbs was doing very well on supervision when she was living independently and Mr. Hobbs was still incarcerated.... And then this contact occurs with her spouse, and those positive steps forward cease and, in fact, she absconds from supervision. That time line seems to the court to be instructive.”
Probation officials offered no proof, however, that Hobbs had had any contact with her husband after he left prison. Notwithstanding that fact, the district court modified the conditions of Hobbs’ supervised release, stating, “The defendant ...
Alabama: Kenyatta Ervin was arrested in early March 2017 on a felony fraud charge. She worked as a guard at the Calhoun County jail, and was accused of using a prisoner’s jail-issued debit card. According to investigators, Ervin failed to provide a card to an offender who was released on March 1; she subsequently used the card herself to withdraw $172 from an ATM, and admitted to doing so. Calhoun County Sheriff Matthew Wade told the local news media, “If you break the law we will prosecute you, especially if you are in law enforcement. We must ensure the citizens [sic] trust by being honest and transparent.” Ervin’s bond was set at $2,500.
Arizona: Edward Mendoza, a former senior guard at a federal prison in Phoenix, was sentenced to 16 months on March 22, 2017. Mendoza was responsible for supervising the women’s camp at the facility, where he had sex with one prisoner on numerous occasions between February 1 and April 2, 2015. He pleaded guilty to sexual abuse of a ward.
Arkansas: An employee at the Pulaski County jail was arrested on March 6, 2017 on 66 counts of forgery, 66 counts of fraud and one count ...