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Prison Legal News: November, 2017

Issue PDF
Volume 28, Number 11

In this issue:

  1. Five Years after Implementation, PREA Standards Remain Inadequate (p 1)
  2. Global Tel*Link Fails to Derail Prison Phone Suit but Dodges Class Certification (p 14)
  3. $285,000 Settlement in Wrongful Death Suit Against Ohio Jail (p 15)
  4. From the Editor (p 16)
  5. Fatal Tasering at North Carolina Jail Results in $350,000 Settlement, Investigation (p 17)
  6. Climate Refugees in Toxic Immigrant Jails Are Victims of Environmental Racism (p 18)
  7. Reform of Florida’s Criminal Justice Laws Urged (p 22)
  8. Federal Halfway House Closures Threaten to Extend Prison Time, Delay Reentry (p 24)
  9. President of New York City Guards’ Union Faces Corruption Charges (p 24)
  10. Tenth Circuit Holds Jail Guard May be Liable for Prisoner-on-Prisoner Assault (p 25)
  11. Arrested Texas Jail Nurse Refused to Test Blood Sugar of Prisoner Who Died (p 26)
  12. Florida Prisoners Denied Hernia Surgery Reach $2.1 Million Settlement (p 28)
  13. Alabama DOC: Partial Settlement on ADA, Mental Health Claims; $1 Million in Attorney Fees Awarded (p 28)
  14. Michigan Sheriff Settles PLN Censorship Suit for $295,000 (p 30)
  15. Wiccan Prisoner Wins Injunction to Wear Medallion; Case Settles on Remand (p 30)
  16. Washington Supreme Court Reverses Prisoner’s Parental Termination Order (p 31)
  17. The Elusive Dream: Closing Rikers Island (p 32)
  18. DOJ Applauds Pennsylvania’s Commitment to Treatment for Mentally Ill Prisoners (p 34)
  19. Lawsuit Alleges Four Oregon Prisons Served Food “Not for Human Consumption” (p 35)
  20. Community Funds, Federal Legislation Challenging Bail System from Different Angles (p 38)
  21. Colorado Narrowly Rejects Ballot Measure to End Slavery as Punishment for Crime (p 40)
  22. Westboro Baptist Church Members Continue to Work in Corrections (p 40)
  23. Nevada Supreme Court Holds Habeas Petition Not Mooted by End of Sentence (p 41)
  24. Former Sheriff Arpaio Guilty of Criminal Contempt, Receives Presidential Pardon (p 42)
  25. $1.2 Million to Settle with Rikers Island Rape Victims (p 43)
  26. Oregon Prison Guard Freed on Sex Charge, Victim Detained as Material Witness (p 44)
  27. Fourth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Deaf Prisoner’s Civil Rights Claim (p 45)
  28. Obama Publishes Commentary on Criminal Justice Reform in Harvard Law Review (p 46)
  29. $250,000 Paid By Virginia Jail to Settle Deaf Prisoner Suit (p 47)
  30. $100,000 Damages Award in Jail Slip-and-Fall Upheld (p 48)
  31. Lawsuit Over 22 Years of Continuous Segregation Reinstated by Second Circuit (p 48)
  32. Wife of President Trump’s Ethics Attorney Caught Having Sex with Prisoner (p 49)
  33. Missouri Has Difficulty Retaining Provider for Execution Drugs (p 50)
  34. $6.5 Million to Family of Wash. Diabetic Prisoner Who Died (p 51)
  35. Georgia Prison Contraband Investigation Nets 130 Arrests, Guilty Pleas (p 52)
  36. Former Utah Jail Commander Pleads Guilty to Misuse of Public Money (p 55)
  37. Seventh Circuit Allows Prisoner’s Eighth Amendment Claim to Proceed (p 56)
  38. Michigan Court Forced to End “Pay or Stay” Policy (p 56)
  39. Eighth Circuit Reverses Finding of Due Process Violations in Minnesota Civil Commitment Program (p 58)
  40. Concern over Use of Prisoners to Clear Homeless Camps in Washington, Oregon (p 58)
  41. Prisoners in Flint, Michigan Lied to About Water Crisis; Lawsuit Settles (p 60)
  42. Supreme Court Declines to Hear Case on Jail Booking Fees (p 60)
  43. Cook County Jail Locked Down on Mother’s Day; Over 200 Workers Absent (p 61)
  44. News in Brief (p 63)

Five Years after Implementation, PREA Standards Remain Inadequate

“We should not be tolerating rape in prison.” – President Barack Obama, July 2015

by Derek Gilna

The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), passed unanimously by Congress in 2003, was a rare instance of bipartisan cooperation, and its passage signaled that public officials could no longer ignore the problem ...

Global Tel*Link Fails to Derail Prison Phone Suit but Dodges Class Certification

by Derek Gilna

An order entered by Western District of Arkansas federal judge Timothy L. Brooks on September 28, 2017 gave a mixed result to both sides in a hotly-contested lawsuit over excessive costs for prison and jail phone calls.

In this case, one of the nation’s largest prison phone ...

$285,000 Settlement in Wrongful Death Suit Against Ohio Jail

On December 13, 2016, officials in Butler County, Ohio agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by the daughter of a woman who died in the county’s jail just over four years earlier. Butler County will pay $285,000 in damages and attorney fees, lawyers for the sheriff’s office announced.

The ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

By now all PLN subscribers should have received our fundraiser mailing which includes our 2016 annual report and details our many activities, ranging from publishing and litigation to advocacy and media outreach. This provides a great overview of the depth and breadth of everything we do. We ...

Fatal Tasering at North Carolina Jail Results in $350,000 Settlement, Investigation

Federal authorities are eyeing North Carolina’s Harnett County Sheriff’s Office for civil rights violations. Their attention was drawn to the Harnett County Jail (HCJ) after a video showed guards Tasering a pre-trial detainee three times and leaving him to die in a padded cell. While that incident was being investigated ...

Climate Refugees in Toxic Immigrant Jails Are Victims of Environmental Racism

by Candice Bernd, Truthout

In April 2017, the Northwest Washington again made headlines after more than 100 immigrant detainees launched a hunger strike to protest the conditions inside the for-profit immigration jail.

The demands reflected many of the concerns originally raised by detainees when they went on strike in 2014 ...

Reform of Florida’s Criminal Justice Laws Urged

by David M. Reutter

Florida taxpayers spend around
$2.3 billion annually on the state’s Department of Corrections – twice what they spend on Florida’s 28 public colleges combined. At least five other states also led by Republican governors and GOP legislative majorities – Alabama, Idaho, Mississippi, Nebraska and Utah ...

Federal Halfway House Closures Threaten to Extend Prison Time, Delay Reentry

by Derek Gilna

The Trump administration has proposed a reduced budget for the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) that would require the agency to cut its staff. As another result of budget cuts, the BOP has quietly terminated the contracts for more than a dozen halfway houses. Consequently, federal prisoners ...

President of New York City Guards’ Union Faces Corruption Charges

by David M. Reutter

Federal officials are pursuing corruption charges against Norman Seabrook, former president of the New York City Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association (COBA).

The charge of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud stemmed from Seabrook’s alleged acceptance of bribes to steer $20 million in union investments to Platinum ...

Tenth Circuit Holds Jail Guard May be Liable for Prisoner-on-Prisoner Assault

On November 14, 2016, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the denial of qualified immunity to a Colorado jail guard who failed to protect a prisoner from being assaulted.

James Durkee was incarcerated at the Summit County Detention Center when he was attacked by fellow prisoner Ricky Michael Ray ...

Arrested Texas Jail Nurse Refused to Test Blood Sugar of Prisoner Who Died

by Matt Clarke

Texas licensed vocational nurse Brittany Johnson was arrested on June 28, 2016 and charged with misdemeanor negligent homicide in the death of female prisoner Morgan Angerbauer, 20, who died of diabetic ketoacidosis at the Bi-State Detention Facility in Texarkana, Texas. Johnson pleaded not guilty at a pre-trial ...

Florida Prisoners Denied Hernia Surgery Reach $2.1 Million Settlement

by David M. Reutter

A $2.1 million settlement has been reached in a class-action lawsuit alleging the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) and Corizon, the department’s former private medical provider, denied hernia operations to prisoners to save money. 

Groin hernias are very common; it is estimated that the ...

Alabama DOC: Partial Settlement on ADA, Mental Health Claims; $1 Million in Attorney Fees Awarded

by David M. Reutter

The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has agreed to a partial settlement to ensure prisoners with disabilities receive treatment and services under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The settlement resolves portions of a class-action lawsuit that also raises claims related to medical and mental health ...

Michigan Sheriff Settles PLN Censorship Suit for $295,000

by Derek Gilna

In June 2017, Prison Legal News obtained a substantial settlement from the Livingston County, Michigan Sheriff’s Office in a censorship lawsuit. The Livingston County jail agreed to settle after five years of litigation that challenged the facility’s mail policies and practices.

According to PLN managing editor Alex ...

Wiccan Prisoner Wins Injunction to Wear Medallion; Case Settles on Remand

by David M. Reutter

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held an Illinois prisoner was entitled to a preliminary injunction permitting him to possess and wear a religious medallion.

Gilbert Knowles, incarcerated at the Pontiac Correctional Center, brought suit under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and ...

Washington Supreme Court Reverses Prisoner’s Parental Termination Order

by Lonnie Burton

In January 26, 2017, a divided Washington Supreme Court held that a trial court could not terminate the parental rights of an incarcerated father without considering the facts of his incarceration as required by legislative amendments to the statutes governing termination of parental rights. The 5-4 decision ...

The Elusive Dream: Closing Rikers Island

by David M. Reutter and Matt Clarke

New York City’s Rikers Island, one of the nation’s largest jails, has a notorious history of violence – both by guards and prisoners. City leaders have long sought to solve the problem that Rikers poses, but resistance by local residents to housing prisoners ...

DOJ Applauds Pennsylvania’s Commitment to Treatment for Mentally Ill Prisoners

by David M. Reutter

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has ended its investigation into the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ (PDOC) use of solitary confinement for prisoners with serious mental illness or intellectual disabilities (SMI/ID).

PLN reported the January 5, 2015 settlement of that investigation after the DOJ ...

Lawsuit Alleges Four Oregon Prisons Served Food “Not for Human Consumption”

On May 9, 2017, attorney Leonard R. Berman filed a class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Portland, Oregon on behalf of three prisoners who claim they were forced to eat fish and chicken intended as "bait food," and were also served spoiled milk. The ...

Community Funds, Federal Legislation Challenging Bail System from Different Angles

by Christopher Zoukis

Kalief Browder was a 16-year-old arrested in New York City in 2012 on charges of stealing a backpack. The charges were later dismissed, but not before he sat in jail on Rikers Island for three years – part of which was spent in solitary confinement – because ...

Colorado Narrowly Rejects Ballot Measure to End Slavery as Punishment for Crime

by Matt Clarke

In November 8, 2016, Colorado voters rejected a ballot measure that would have amended the state constitution to remove 140-year-old language allowing slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for crime. The removal of the exception to the constitution’s general prohibition against slavery and involuntary servitude was rejected ...

Westboro Baptist Church Members Continue to Work in Corrections

by Matt Clarke

Fred W. Phelps, Sr., 85, was widely known as the founder and leader of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas – a cult-like group that practices hate speech at the most inappropriate venues, including funerals for soldiers killed in combat. The church, which has no relation ...

Nevada Supreme Court Holds Habeas Petition Not Mooted by End of Sentence

In a case of first impression, the Supreme Court of Nevada held that a state habeas corpus action filed while a person was incarcerated was not mooted by his subsequent release from all forms of custody.

In 2011, while a state prisoner, Lazaro Martinez-Hernandez filed a petition for writ of ...

Former Sheriff Arpaio Guilty of Criminal Contempt, Receives Presidential Pardon

by Joe Watson

Former Maricopa County, Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio’s words, rather than his misdeeds, finally landed him on the verge of going to prison – but he was pulled back from the brink after receiving a presidential pardon.

The self-proclaimed “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” who was ousted by voters ...

$1.2 Million to Settle with Rikers Island Rape Victims

by Derek Gilna

In May 2017, the City of New York agreed to pay $1.2 million to two female prisoners to resolve claims of rape and sexual assault by a male guard at the city’s Rose M. Singer facility on Rikers Island. Rikers, one of the nation’s largest jail ...

Oregon Prison Guard Freed on Sex Charge, Victim Detained as Material Witness

"She was in chains,” said Betsy Rawls, an attorney representing a former prisoner who was incarcerated as a material witness against the prison guard who sexually abused her. “Belly chains and shackles. And she’s the victim.” The guard, meanwhile, was released on bail.

Brian Balzer, 42, was hired ...

Fourth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Deaf Prisoner’s Civil Rights Claim

by Derek Gilna

Thomas Heyer, who is completely deaf, was initially convicted of possessing child pornography, then violated his supervised release and was imprisoned for eighteen months in 2007. Before he was released from federal prison, prosecutors filed an Adam Walsh petition seeking to civilly confine him as a “sexually ...

Obama Publishes Commentary on Criminal Justice Reform in Harvard Law Review

by Christopher Zoukis


Barack Obama made history by becoming the first president to contribute to legal scholarship by having an article published in a law journal while in office. The article, titled “The President’s Role in Advancing Criminal Justice Reform,” appeared in the January 2017 issue of the prestigious ...

$250,000 Paid By Virginia Jail to Settle Deaf Prisoner Suit

In December 2016, a $250,000 settlement was reached in a lawsuit brought by a deaf prisoner who was effectively unable to communicate during a six-week stay at a jail in Arlington County, Virginia. The suit pushed the sheriff’s office to implement new procedures to accommodate prisoners with disabilities.

Abreham ...

$100,000 Damages Award in Jail Slip-and-Fall Upheld

Lawsuit Over 22 Years of Continuous Segregation Reinstated by Second Circuit

by Lonnie Burton

On January 24, 2017, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed a ruling by a New York federal district court that dismissed a lawsuit brought by a prisoner who had challenged the constitutionality of his 22 consecutive years in solitary confinement. The appellate court concluded ...

Wife of President Trump’s Ethics Attorney Caught Having Sex with Prisoner

by Monte McCoin

The wife of an attorney who serves as an ethics advisor to President Donald Trump’s revocable trust – an entity intended to separate Trump’s business and political activities – was arrested on September 5, 2017 after she was caught having sex with a prisoner at Virginia’s Fauquier ...

Missouri Has Difficulty Retaining Provider for Execution Drugs

by David M. Reutter

The Missouri Department of Corrections ran afoul of the state’s public records laws when it tried to withhold its source of propofol, a lethal injection drug, a state court judge ruled. That’s when the drug’s supplier found out how it was being used – and demanded ...

$6.5 Million to Family of Wash. Diabetic Prisoner Who Died

In April 2015, a jury in Spokane, Washington awarded $8 million to the family of a 57-year-old prisoner described as a “brittle diabetic” who was allowed to die when state prison guards, rather than seeking medical attention, restrained him after he went into hypoglycemic shock. The verdict was twice the ...

Georgia Prison Contraband Investigation Nets 130 Arrests, Guilty Pleas

by David M. Reutter

About 130 people have been arrested following a joint two-year investigation by the FBI and the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDOC). Indictments for 75 of the arrestees were announced in September 2015; another 46 indictments, all involving current or former prison employees, were reported in February ...

Former Utah Jail Commander Pleads Guilty to Misuse of Public Money

by Monte McCoin

Galen Bret Allred, 47, the former commander of the Iron County Correctional Facility in Utah, pleaded guilty on September 7, 2017 to one third-degree felony count of misuse of public funds. Millard County Attorney Patrick Finlinson prosecuted the case when the Iron County Attorney’s Office cited its ...

Seventh Circuit Allows Prisoner’s Eighth Amendment Claim to Proceed

by Christopher Zoukis

The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has reversed a district court’s ruling that a former prisoner’s Eighth Amendment claim of cruel and unusual punishment could not go forward. The appellate court did, however, uphold the dismissal of a First Amendment claim.

Seyon R. Haywood accused ...

Michigan Court Forced to End “Pay or Stay” Policy

by David M. Reutter

A Michigan state district court judge was ordered to end a “pay or stay” policy that he used to toss poor defendants in jail for their inability to pay fines, fees and court costs. 

The ACLU of Michigan assigned interns and fellows to watch the ...

Eighth Circuit Reverses Finding of Due Process Violations in Minnesota Civil Commitment Program

by Matt Clarke

On January 3, 2017, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down an opinion that reversed a district court’s finding of substantive due process violations in a civil rights complaint brought by civilly committed sex offenders in Minnesota.

In the class-action suit, sex offenders who had been ...

Concern over Use of Prisoners to Clear Homeless Camps in Washington, Oregon

by Lonnie Burton

In November 2016, the Human Rights Commission (HRC) in Seattle, Washington adopted a resolution calling on the city to stop using state Department of Corrections (DOC) work crews to clean up homeless encampments. HRC’s announcement came just two months after a federal judge in nearby Tacoma found ...

Prisoners in Flint, Michigan Lied to About Water Crisis; Lawsuit Settles

by David M. Reutter

As the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint, Michigan developed in 2015 and 2016, detainees held at the Genesee County Jail (GCJ) were told the water they drank, cooked with and bathed in was safe. [See: PLN, March 2016, p.22]. That lie was the subject of ...

Supreme Court Declines to Hear Case on Jail Booking Fees

by Christopher Zoukis

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to rule on the issue of jail “booking fees” – fees charged when arrestees are jailed, which are not always returned upon their release.

The case involved a $25 fee charged to everyone arrested in Ramsey County, Minnesota. One person ...

Cook County Jail Locked Down on Mother’s Day; Over 200 Workers Absent

by Monte McCoin

On Sunday, May 14, 2017--Mother’s Day--86 guards called out sick at the Cook County Jail in Chicago while another 120 cited the Family Medical Leave Act to justify their absences. The jail was locked down except for “essential movement,” but its visitation schedule remained in effect ...

News in Brief

Alabama: During a search of arrestee Jesse O’Neal Roberts in March 2017, a stolen gun was discovered after it fell out of his underwear. A jail guard wrote in a report: “I immediately considered that he defecated on himself before noticing a familiar shape in the form of a pistol ...