by Rick Anderson
"When I walk into my cell and see a [toilet] bowl full of brown water, I’m reminded of my status in the world; I’m reminded of my value. All the pious talk in the world about rehabilitation doesn’t change this ugly reality.”
That was lifer Kenneth E. Hartman describing what some days are like at the California State Prison LAC in Lancaster, a maximum-security facility about 70 miles north of Los Angeles.
It’s crowded there, and the prison’s operations and sewer system are bearing the effects of more than 3,400 prisoners in a facility built to hold 2,300. Some newcomers bunk in the crowded gymnasium where beds are pushed together dormitory-style in long vertical rows and prisoners, unlike those in cells, have to line up to use the bathroom facilities.
California’s prison population peaked at more than 175,000 in 2006, roughly double the system’s intended capacity. Critics blamed the overcrowding on the state’s hard-line, 1990s policies which, over the years, increasingly saw incarceration and lengthy sentences as the best answers to rising crime: Lock ‘em all up, a majority of legislators believed.
With prisoners sleeping in hallways, gyms and program rooms, then-Governor Arnold ...
by Paul Wright
Welcome to the last issue of PLN for 2017. We have had an exciting year with many notable accomplishments. By now everyone on PLN’s mailing list should have received the first issue of Criminal Legal News, and if you are interested in criminal case law, police-related litigation and the front end of the police state that feeds the prison machine then I hope you will subscribe to CLN as well. We expect CLN to grow in size as we build up more advertisers, so we will be bringing readers more news they can use. We are excited that the first issue of CLN has been published as smoothly as it has and I hope PLN readers consider subscribing to CLN.
By now you also should have received HRDC’s fundraiser packet, which provides an overview of our activities for the previous year as well as examples of the media coverage we received. After the fundraiser mailing was sent out we were focusing on launching CLN, as well as ramping up our new public records project, when we were notified on October 23 that the City of Lake Worth, Florida had bought the building where our office is ...
The fight to reform unconstitutional conditions at the New Orleans parish jail in Louisiana has resulted in litigation, a 2013 consent decree and the construction of a new facility. The consent decree stemmed from a federal lawsuit filed by detainees at the jail, who are now represented by the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center.
As a result of the suit, U.S. District Court Judge Lance M. Africk assumed oversight over operations at the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) and forced Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman to appoint a new compliance director. Susan McCampbell, the lead monitor at the troubled facility, cited progress in June 2017, saying she saw “a light at the end of this tunnel.”
PLN has previously reported on the longstanding battle between Sheriff Gusman and city leaders over how to resolve unconstitutional conditions of confinement at OPP. [See: PLN, Dec. 2016, p.16; June 2014, p.44]. The facility has been under a consent decree for the past four years that includes provisions to make the jail safer for both prisoners and guards. A major obstacle has been insufficient funding by the city.
Sheriff Gusman dreamed of a new building equipped with an additional 380 beds ...
by Mike Ludwig, Truthout
In the spring of 2014, as rising rates of opioid misuse and fatal overdoses were capturing the nation’s attention, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) was working on a national initiative to expand access to addiction medications known as medication-assisted treatments, or MATs. The ONDCP had just come under the direction of Michael Botticelli, President Obama’s new drug czar, whose background in public health rather than law enforcement signaled to some that a shift was happening in federal drug policy.
A memo circulating among top staff at the Bureau of Prisons at the time stated that the White House was “eager” to include federal prisoners in its national drug treatment initiative. The federal prison system’s substance abuse programs were not working for the vast majority of prisoners with opioid use disorders, so, the memo said, MAT should be provided as an additional option in federal prisons for the first time. A small number of jails and state prisons already had MAT programs, and the ONDCP had pushed for a federal program since late 2013.
Federal prison officials made plans to run a “MAT field trial” in Texas. Ten prisoners with a history of opioid ...
by Monte McCoin
PLN previously reported the February 3, 2017 arrest of federal prisoner Justin B. Stinson, who was caught sneaking back into the minimum-security prison camp at USP Atlanta carrying a duffel bag filled with a cell phone, scissors, two 1.75 liters of Jose Cuervo tequila, two cartons of Newport cigarettes, four boxes of Black & Mild cigars and food items. [See: PLN, Mar. 2017, p.33].
Stinson’s escape to procure the contraband was one of a series of breakouts at the prison dating as far back as 2013. He pleaded guilty to one count of escaping from federal custody and was sentenced in June 2017 to an additional 15 months, to be served after the completion of his current sentence on a weapons charge.
On June 6, 2017, two other defendants pleaded guilty to helping multiple prisoners escape and return to USP Atlanta. Deldrick D. Jackson, 41, and his fiancée Kelly M. Bass, 38, admitted they received roughly $4,000 from prisoners for using a smartphone app to meet them at a point of egress from the facility, then drive them to restaurants, hotels and homes in an improvised “taxi service.” Jackson has not yet been ...
by David M. Reutter
In September 2015, a Georgia prison doctor was fired for lying on his employment application. The misrepresentations were uncovered earlier that year during an investigation by the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) into the deaths of nine female prisoners under the doctor’s care. He was cited in a report for providing substandard treatment – as a direct result of which two women died. But a loophole in state law prevented the state medical board from disciplining him, and he now has an application to practice medicine pending in New Jersey.
The AJC investigation found that Dr. Yvon Nazaire had neglected prisoners in obvious distress and regularly canceled requested outside consultations. Prison officials ignored repeated red flags about Nazaire’s care of prisoners and even applauded his ability to control costs by giving him a pay raise.
Nazaire moved to Georgia in 2006 following a 20-year career as an emergency room physician in New York. When the Haitian-born doctor left, he had served less than a year of a three-year probation sanction imposed after being cited for gross negligence in the treatment of five ER patients; in one of those cases he failed to diagnose a 28-year-old patient’s heart ...
The use of software to predict future criminality is increasing in popularity. However, a study by ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit news agency that produces investigative journalism, found that prediction programs are racially skewed.
Risk assessments are gaining traction in courtrooms across the United States; some jurisdictions use them to set bond amounts while in others they are utilized to make sentencing decisions. Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin provide such assessment results to judges during sentencing hearings. [See: PLN, July 2017, p.22].
“Evidence has a better track record for assessing risks and needs than intuition alone,” Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Christine Remington wrote in a brief defending the state’s use of risk assessments in criminal cases.
The most popular assessment program, COMPAS, comes from Northpointe, Inc., a for-profit company that uses answers to 137 questions to make risk assessments. The firm refuses to disclose the calculations used to arrive at its conclusions, calling them proprietary information.
That refusal raises due process questions, critics say. “Risk assessments should be impermissible unless both parties get to see all the data that go into them,” said Christopher Slobogin, director of the criminal justice program at Vanderbilt ...
by Christopher Zoukis
In December 19, 2016, the First Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the convictions of several former public officials in Massachusetts for their roles in a hiring scheme at the Office of the Commissioner of Probation (OCP).
The defendants, Elizabeth V. Tavares, John J. O’Brien and William H. Burke III, were high-ranking officials in the OCP. According to the appellate court, “they catered to hiring requests from members of the state legislature with the hope of obtaining favorable legislation for the Department of Probation and the OCP.” Essentially, the three defendants were part of a conspiracy that arranged the hiring of certain job candidates in exchange for budgetary considerations. [See: PLN, Jan. 2011, p.36].
After the release of a bombshell report by the Boston Globe highlighting the patronage scheme, federal prosecutors charged the defendants with RICO violations and mail fraud. Following a 47-day trial, all three were convicted on the RICO count and most of the mail fraud counts. They appealed, arguing that the sufficiency of the evidence did not support their convictions.
The First Circuit agreed and reversed. The appellate court noted that while the conduct of the defendants was “distasteful and even contrary to ...
by Lonnie Burton
A federal judge has held that members of the media and witnesses may view all aspects of executions carried out in Arizona. State prison officials can no longer prohibit journalists from seeing prisoners being escorted into the death chamber, the insertion of drug catheters or the administration of lethal injections.
U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow, who signed the order on December 21, 2016, also ruled there was not enough evidence to adjudicate other aspects of the lawsuit – filed by death row prisoners and later joined by various news media organizations – which sought to force the Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC) to provide more information about staff members who administer lethal injection drugs, the quality and amount of the drugs used, as well as their sources. The state had argued that revealing such information would jeopardize its ability to acquire the drugs and carry out executions.
The case was filed shortly after the botched execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood III in July 2014. When the initial lethal injection drugs failed to kill Wood, DOC Director Charles Ryan instructed prison officials to keep trying. They then gave Wood 14 more doses.
In a procedure ...
by Derek Gilna
For many years, the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) has largely denied treatment to prisoners infected with hepatitis C – a blood-borne disease that can have serious long-term health effects. In doing so, state prison officials concerned more about the cost of medical care than human suffering followed the all-too-common practice of rationing treatment for prisoners who have no other options for their healthcare needs. However, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker put an end to that practice on November 17, 2017, ordering the FDC to immediately start treating all hep C-infected prisoners in its custody with Direct Acting Antiviral (DAA) medications.
According to the Judge Walker, “Plaintiffs claim that Defendant is acting with deliberate indifference to their serious medical needs, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and that Defendant is discriminating against them on the basis of disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ... and the Rehabilitation Act.” The district court also found the lawsuit was suitable for class-action certification, since “the parties presented evidence showing that the proposed class includes at least 7,000 inmates and likely includes upward of 20,000 inmates.”
The court wrote that the class would ...
by Monte McCoin
Researchers have found that prisoners considered the highest security risks were less stressed and less violent after watching videos with nature scenes than those who did not. Ecologist Nalini Nadkarni at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City published the study’s findings on September 1, 2017 in the academic journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.
The experiment built on past research that has shown prisoners’ physical and mental health can be improved by regularly seeing plants. “I thought, wow, if we could just calm them with nature rather than with Kevlar vests and riot gear, that would be really great,” Nadkarni said of her 2010 idea for the study. But it took years to find a prison willing to let her test her hypothesis.
According to Nature.com, Nadkarni’s team divided prisoners serving time in solitary at the Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario, Oregon into two groups of 24. Those in one group could choose to exercise or, up to five times per week, watch 45-minute-long videos showing natural scenes such as mountains, forests and oceans. Those in the other group were offered exercise but no videos. The researchers found that prisoners who ...
by Matt Clarke
On December 30, 2016, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the denial of qualified immunity to two Phoenix police officers and two Maricopa County jail guards in a civil rights case alleging they beat a prisoner to death.
When mentally ill U.S. Army veteran Ernest “Marty” Atencio, 44, was booked into the Maricopa County jail a few days before Christmas in 2011, he was behaving strangely – talking in a “word salad” to an empty peanut butter container as if it were a person. Jail medical personnel recognized that he was “in crisis” but did nothing to help him. Jailers taunted him, laughing at his inability to follow orders; they convinced him to make funny faces at the camera so they could win the Sheriff’s Office’s online “Mug Shot of the Week” contest.
Things turned ugly when the guards asked him to take off his shoes so they could be scanned. He took one off but asked Phoenix police officer Patrick Hanlon to remove the other. That’s when jailers piled onto him, beating and kicking him before they took him to a safe cell. Afterwards they allegedly laughed, joked and celebrated the beating.
As previously ...
by Derek Gilna
A lawsuit seeking class-action status was filed on October 20, 2017 in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, Washington, complaining of excessive and predatory fees imposed on prisoners who receive debit cards containing funds from their jail trust accounts upon their release. The suit was filed on behalf of Jeffrey Reichert, who was forced to accept a debit card when he was released from a jail in Kitsap County and discovered that he had to pay exorbitant fees to access his own money.
The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the parent organization of Prison Legal News, has taken the lead in challenging debit release card practices that exploit prisoners; such cards are provided by banks and other for-profit financial institutions. HRDC is also representing the plaintiff in a debit release card lawsuit in Oregon. [See: PLN, Oct. 2016, p.28; April 2016, p.38].
In Reichert’s case, after his arrest Kitsap County jail officials took the $176 he had in his possession and upon his release returned the funds on an AccessFreedom debit card. When he tried to obtain his money he learned it would cost him 10% of the original balance, or $17.66. Had he ...
by Monte McCoin
On May 26, 2017, the Court of Appeal of New Zealand issued a decision in the case of Attorney General v. Taylor, which upheld High Court Justice Paul Heath’s July 25, 2015 determination that a blanket ban on the ability of prisoners to vote was a violation of the nation’s Bill of Rights.
In December 2010, the New Zealand Parliament amended the Electoral Act of 1993 to exclude all prisoners from voting in the country’s elections. Previously, the Act restricted the voting prohibition to prisoners sentenced to three or more years by disqualifying them from registering to vote. A group of five plaintiffs, all disenfranchised prisoners except one, filed suit against New Zealand’s Attorney General alleging that the 2010 amendment was inconsistent with the right to vote affirmed and protected by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act of 1990. Justice Heath agreed and the Attorney General appealed.
Court of Appeal Justices Kós, Randerson, Wild, French and Miller heard the case in October 2016 and considered the High Court’s ruling in terms of jurisdictional issues, human rights issues and the legislature’s power to pass laws. In a 60-page ruling, the appellate court agreed with Justice Heath’s determination ...
by Matt Clarke
On February 21, 2017, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in an en banc ruling, held that Correctional Medical Services, Inc. (now known as Corizon Health) may be held liable for deciding not to centrally coordinate medical services for prisoners.
Prior to his incarceration, Indiana state prisoner Nicholas Glisson suffered from several serious medical issues. Most importantly, his larynx and parts of his pharynx and mandible, as well as 13 teeth, had been surgically removed due to laryngeal cancer, and he had a feeding tube and a permanent stoma (an opening in his throat), plus a tracheostomy tube. His neck could not support his head and, without a neck brace, his breathing was impaired. He also required a voice prosthesis to speak.
Despite those medical conditions, Glisson was able to live independently, clean and suction his stoma, use his feeding tube, and swallow food most of the time. He took care of his own hygiene, helped with household chores, and provided care for his grandmother and terminally-ill brother.
A friend, who was acting as a police informant, convinced Glisson to give him some of his prescription pain medication; as a result, Glisson was arrested and convicted of ...
by Derek Gilna
On June 13, 2016, U.S. District CourtJudge Waverly D. Crenshaw, Jr. denied a motion submitted by Robertson County, Tennessee officials seeking to dismiss a §1983 civil rights case brought by the mother of Matthew J. Burns, who committed suicide while confined at the Robertson County Detention Facility (RCDF).
Despite the fact that Burns’ family had contacted RCDF staff after his arrest and before he was jailed to warn them about his suicidal tendencies, he was not screened by appropriate medical professionals and was placed in general population. He took his own life two days later, on September 16, 2012.
According to the district court’s opinion, “In the year before he committed suicide at the RCDF, [Burns] received treatment at both a mental health facility and a detoxification facility.... Approximately five months before his death, he was hospitalized for an overdose of medication, which his family members believed to be a deliberate suicide attempt.”
Despite those facts, the judge noted in his ruling, the only licensed medical professional on duty when Burns was admitted to the jail was Nurse Chezem, a licensed practical nurse, “which required [only] twelve months of study at a vocational school.... Mr ...
by Lonnie Burton
A “white paper” published in November 2016 by Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts (PLSM) found that while the use of solitary confinement in the state was widespread, it did not produce provable cost-effectiveness or reduce prison violence – and that solitary may actually be bad for public safety.
In June 2017, members of the state legislature’s Judiciary Committee heard the first proposal for reform to follow the PLSM study – a bill that would limit solitary confinement to cases where a prisoner poses a clear threat to the safety of the facility.
“You need to make sure someone poses a threat in order to keep them in segregation, and you have to give them a pathway out,” said PLSM attorney Bonita Tenneriello, who added that prisoners in solitary need “some kind of programming to address their behavioral problems.”
The Massachusetts Department of Correction (MDOC) already requires a hearing within 30 days when prisoners are placed in segregation. Further, MDOC policies state that prisoners must pose a “substantial threat” either to others or to the prison’s safe operation. Solitary is also supposed to be limited to “administrative” as opposed to punitive purposes.
But Tenneriello said the ...
by Monte McCoin
Former Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, who in 2009 drew acclaim as the first African-American D.A. in the city and the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, was sentenced on October 24, 2017 to five years in prison for accepting a bribe. He had been disbarred the week before.
Williams was initially indicted on March 21, 2017 in a 23-count charging document that detailed a sprawling corruption case against the disgraced top prosecutor. Investigators accused him of repeatedly selling his influence in exchange for cash, luxury trips and lavish gifts such as a 1997 Jaguar XK8 convertible. The charges were later expanded to 29 counts in a May 2017 superseding indictment that included accusations Williams had fraudulently used thousands of dollars from his campaign fund for personal expenses, misused city vehicles and misappropriated money intended to fund his mother’s nursing home care.
Williams pleaded guilty on June 29, 2017 to a single count of a Travel Act violation and resigned. He was taken into custody immediately despite his tearful plea to the court to remain free until sentencing for the sake of his three school-age daughters. “Your profound dishonesty has to be deterred,” said U.S. District ...
by Christopher Zoukis
In what is typically a politically risky move, six state governors recently granted pardons and commutations to hundreds of current and former prisoners. In California, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Arkansas and Vermont, more than 500 pardons were granted along with another 20 commutations or grants of clemency.
In January 2017, outgoing Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin pardoned 192 people convicted of non-violent marijuana offenses. The state decriminalized marijuana in 2013 but has yet to legalize it. According to Shumlin, the collateral consequences of a minor drug conviction are severe and in some cases unwarranted.
“When you look at the Vermonters who are sitting out there with criminal records because they have had an ounce or less of marijuana – could have happened in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s – there’s thousands of them,” Shumlin stated.
Pardoning any criminal, even low-level drug offenders, is always politically dangerous. But experts believe that shifts in public opinion have rendered such actions more acceptable for lawmakers.
“What he’s doing is, it’s almost unimaginably safe [from criticism] if you think in terms of 40 years ago,” P.S. Ruckman, Jr., a professor of political science at Rock Valley College in Illinois, told ...
by Monte McCoin
Dr. Mark Mitchell believes that he and a number of other prison medical staffers were fired because they were in the process of returning the Oahu Community Correctional Center’s (OCCC) mental health care system to compliance with U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) standards.
“I think we rocked the boat,” Mitchell told Hawaii News Now during a July 6, 2017 interview.
Mitchell was hired as a branch administrator in September 2008 just as the DOJ filed a lawsuit which claimed OCCC failed to provide “constitutionally adequate mental health care to detainees.” Shortly afterwards the DOJ approved Mitchell’s corrective action plan, which included hiring several trained mental health workers. His plan was to stabilize prisoners either through medication or counseling, then encourage them to continue treatment upon their release. The plan also set specifics as to how quickly prisoners are diagnosed, the number of treatment hours they receive, the process for suicide checks and pre-release requirements.
The DOJ settled its lawsuit in June 2015, saying that OCCC was in compliance. See: United States v. State of Hawaii, U.S.D.C. (D. Hawaii), Case No. 1:08-cv-00585-JMS-KSC. The following month, Dr. Lori Karan, OCCC’s medical director ...
by Christopher Zoukis
The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has ruled against two Pennsylvania prisoners who were held in solitary confinement on death row for years after their death sentences were vacated. In the course of its opinion, however, the appellate court made it clear that in the future the state may not subject prisoners to “the deprivations of death row” once a death sentence is no longer in effect without providing procedural safeguards.
Craig Williams and Shawn T. Walker were both condemned to death but their sentences were later reduced to life without parole. Prison officials forced both men to remain on death row while the state appealed, even though they were no longer facing death sentences. Williams and Walker separately sued the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, arguing that prison officials had “violated their Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process by continuing to subject them to the deprivations of solitary confinement on death row without meaningful review of their placements after their death sentences had been vacated.”
In a 59-page opinion released on February 9, 2017, the Third Circuit held prisoners have a “due process liberty interest” in avoiding the conditions of protracted solitary confinement on ...
by Lonnie Burton
Following a trial that began on March 6, 2017, a federal jury awarded a former prisoner more than $13 million after he sued the City of Chicago, seven police officers and two Cook County prosecutors over his wrongful convictions for a 1992 double homicide.
Deon Patrick spent more than two decades in prison before prosecutors dismissed the charges against him in 2014. He filed his wrongful conviction suit in federal court that same year. The jury verdict came just four months after another Chicago man, Nathson “Nate” Fields, was awarded $22 million after spending more than 10 years on death row only to be later cleared of a 1984 double murder. [See: PLN, April 2017, p.30].
Court records show that Jeffrey Lassiter, a drug dealer, and Sharon Haugabook, a prostitute, were shot and killed in Lassiter’s apartment on November 16, 1992. Weeks later, police claimed they had arrested three people for drug possession, two of whom voluntarily implicated themselves, along with Patrick and several others, in the murders. Patrick was arrested the same day, after which the police said a witness picked him out of a lineup as one of the people she saw leaving the ...
by Monte McCoin
Carlton O. Harris, a 28-year-old journeyman roofer, was mistakenly held at the District of Columbia’s jail for 77 days without a chance to see a judge or be appointed a defense attorney after a misdemeanor charge against him was dropped. Harris, a father of two, feared retaliation from guards if he complained about the lack of due process.
“I know I had a right to a lawyer,” he said, “but when you’re in their custody, it’s out of your control. You kind of got to sit back and let them do their job. You speak up, they can go real bad. They can put you in a room, cuff you and beat you down. You can speak up, but it turns out you’re going to have to shut up.”
Harris had voyaged into a jail bureaucracy that has already cost D.C. taxpayers more than $18 million in lawsuit settlements since 2005. [See: PLN, July 2015, p.32; Oct. 2006, p.29]. His ordeal began with his March 28, 2017 arrest following a dispute at his home; prosecutors dropped the case the next day, but Harris was returned to the jail to await extradition to ...
by Christopher Zoukis
In a unanimous and lengthy opinion, the Vermont Supreme Court dismissed a charge of unauthorized practice of law brought against a jailhouse lawyer.
Martin Serendipity Morales, a prisoner who identifies as female, was being held at the Marble Valley Regional Correctional Center when she was charged with a felony by Bennington County prosecutors. Her crime? Helping other prisoners prepare legal documents for use in court proceedings.
“The unauthorized practice of law is punished as criminal contempt of the Vermont Supreme Court,” said Assistant Attorney General John Treadwell. Morales was charged under Vt. Stat. Ann. title 4, § 901.
The right to practice law is generally restricted to licensed attorneys. But prisoners have their own rights, established in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Bounds v. Smith, 97 S.Ct. 1491 (1977), though as limited in Lewis v. Casey, 116 S.Ct. 2174 (1996). In Bounds, the justices held that prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts. Courts have consistently interpreted that right to include the assistance of fellow prisoners with legal matters.
The zealous prosecutors in Bennington County, however, did not appreciate jailhouse lawyers helping other prisoners. In a memorandum in support ...
by Derek Gilna and Matt Clarke
Jail officials in Syracuse, New York have agreed to end solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-old juvenile offenders held at the Onondaga County Justice Center under the terms of a June 26, 2017 settlement that ended a federal class-action suit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU).
In its complaint, the NYCLU wrote that “[d]espite an emerging consensus that solitary confinement places juveniles at risk of serious harm – including suicide, psychosis, and post-traumatic stress disorder – and despite a national abandonment of solitary confinement of juveniles, the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office has embraced the frequent and arbitrary use of solitary confinement.” The complaint argued that the “Defendants have violated and continue to violate the Plaintiffs’ rights under the Eighth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.”
Shortly after the lawsuit was filed the district court entered an order granting class-action status, and a week later, on February 22, 2017, granted a preliminary injunction against the defendants. The injunction required the jail to stop imposing 23-hour-a-day disciplinary isolation on juvenile offenders, and to provide a minimum ...
by Lonnie Burton
The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has reversed a district court’s order dismissing a Wisconsin state prisoner’s 42 U.S.C. § 1983 lawsuit on the grounds that he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. The appellate court held the lower court had erred when it failed to consider extenuating circumstances which rendered the administrative remedies “unavailable.”
Mark Weiss filed his complaint in 2016 alleging that Wisconsin prison officials failed to prevent an assault by his cellmate that resulted in a broken ankle. The lawsuit further alleged that the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (WDOC) left his broken ankle untreated for over six months, in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
The defendants moved to dismiss the suit, arguing Weiss had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the PLRA, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). The state alleged that Weiss did not fully exhaust the prison system’s grievance procedure as he did not file a timely appeal of his initial grievance. The district court agreed, granted summary judgment to the defendants and dismissed the suit. Weiss appealed, arguing that the court had failed to consider his ...
by Lonnie Burton
In May 2017, a former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who worked at the L.A. County jail and helped send colleagues to prison for obstructing an FBI investigation was set to receive $1.275 million after the settlement of her federal lawsuit accusing the sheriff’s department ...
A December 2016 news report by FOX 4 Problem Solvers in Kansas City, Kansas found that visitors at the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth were sometimes unable to see their loved ones because the facility failed to accommodate their disabilities. Despite federal regulations requiring all government buildings, including prisons, to be accessible to people with disabilities, the chair lift used to take disabled visitors up the 47 steps that lead to the front door was almost always inoperable.
“Since August , I’ve been there 10 times and been turned away eight...,” said wheelchair-bound visitor Edwin Kunzler. “I’ve asked to speak with the warden’s secretary ... but they refuse to transfer me to her,” he added, saying prison staff told him they were not allowed to transfer complaints from visitors to the warden’s office.
There is another way to enter USP Leavenworth, FOX 4 found, but prison officials rarely let anyone use that entrance. Multiple complaints were filed with the Kansas Disability Rights Center over the lack of access for disabled visitors at the federal prison; FOX 4 cited examples from two other people who could not visit due to their disabilities.
After FOX 4 reporters were also denied entry ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Incarceration in a state or federal prison is bad. Incarceration in a state or federal prison while disabled is much worse.
Consider the numbers. According to a recent Vice.com article, 31 percent of prisoners in state facilities reported having a physical or mental disability. And as the U.S. prison population ages, the number of disabled prisoners is expected to increase significantly.
By almost all accounts, life in prison for a disabled person is immeasurably more difficult than for the non-disabled. Given the existence of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12131, et seq; section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (RA), 29 U.S.C. § 794(a) and the Eighth Amendment, this should not be the case.
The ADA requires that “reasonable accommodations” be made for disabled persons, and the U.S. Supreme Court established in 1998 that the ADA applies to state prisoners. The RA applies to both state and federal prisoners. In United States v. Georgia, 546 U.S. 151, 126 S.Ct. 877 (2006) [PLN, Mar. 2006, p.14], the Supreme Court held that prisoners may sue a state for monetary damages under the ...
by Lonnie Burton
On March 13, 2017, the city of Pagedale, Missouri agreed to pay $1.2 million to the family of a woman who hung herself at the city jail two-and-a-half years earlier. The resolution of the case meant that a jury trial scheduled for August 2017 was called ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Four guards at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls, Rhode Island were placed on administrative leave after a prisoner escaped on New Years Eve 2016. James Morales, 35, scaled the backboard of a basketball goal in the facility’s recreation yard, cut through a fence using a homemade tool and descended an exterior wall on a bed sheet, according to Warden Daniel Martin.
The prison’s board of directors quickly launched an investigation.
“We want to know: Were the procedures and policies in place on that day followed without exception?” asked board chairman Luke Gallant. “If they were, what were the holes and where are the holes that allowed this escape?”
Morales, a former Army Reservist, was charged with breaking into an Army Reserve building in 2015 and stealing military firearms. Following his escape a manhunt involving local, state and federal authorities ultimately led to his recapture on January 5, 2017. He has since been charged with “escape from custody of the attorney general,” an offense that carries a potential five-year prison term.
According to minutes from a meeting of the Central Falls Detention Facility Corporation (CFDFC) in late 2016, the facility had ...
by Lonnie Burton
A July 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Education found that spending on prisons and jails nationwide outpaced what public officials spent on education at a rate of more than three-to-one. The study covered a 33-year period – from 1979 to 2012 – which saw the nation’s prison population swell far beyond capacity amid harsh sentencing laws.
During that time period, according to the report, state and local spending on schools grew to $534 billion from $258 billion, or an increase of 107 percent. Meanwhile, spending on corrections grew by a whopping 324 percent, up from $17 billion in 1979 to an estimated $71 billion in 2012.
Currently, the United States – which includes federal, state and local jurisdictions – spends about $80 billion per year on its corrections system – though some estimates which include collateral costs are significantly higher. [See p. 57].
The Department of Education study found that the population of prisoners held in state and local facilities grew to nearly 2.1 million in 2012, compared to just over 450,000 in 1979. State and local spending on postsecondary education, on the other hand, has remained flat since 1990 when adjusted ...
In November 2016, Jefferson County, Montana agreed to pay $125,000 to settle a civil rights lawsuit filed by a prisoner who was allegedly raped in the county jail.
Audemio Orozco-Ramirez was being held on immigration charges when he claimed he was sexually assaulted in October 2013. Due to his ...
In October 31, 2017, CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest for-profit prison company, announced via a press release that it was launching an initiative to advocate for policies designed to reduce recidivism.
Those policies include “ban the box” initiatives to help ex-offenders obtain employment, more funding for reentry programs, social impact bond programs and “reduced legal barriers to make it easier and less risky for companies to hire former inmates.”
Additionally, the company said it would “make support for reentry policies one of the criteria considered by its political giving committee when determining financial support for candidates for office.” CoreCivic self-reported $781,800 in political donations and $1.5 million in lobbying expenses in 2015; it has not yet released data for 2016.
CoreCivic executives lauded the initiative, which stemmed from commitments made by the company in 2014 to encourage rehabilitation and reduce recidivism.
“A lot of folks would assume that we have a view that the status quo is fine, and that’s just not our view,” remarked CoreCivic executive vice president Tony Grande. “We want to be a part of the solution.”
However, PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann, who ...
by Christopher Zoukis
The Death Penalty Information Center has released a report highlighting significant changes in the number of executions in the United States in 2016.
According to the report, there were 20 executions in the U.S. during calendar year 2016 – the lowest number in 25 years. Additionally, juries imposed fewer death sentences than in any year since the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily struck down the death penalty in 1972.
The declining number of death sentences and executions match waning public support for capital punishment. According to polls conducted by the Pew Research Center and Gallup, about 40 percent of Americans oppose the death penalty. The polls vary, with Pew finding the number closer to 50 percent; regardless, support for the death penalty is at its lowest level in decades.
“America is in the midst of a major climate change concerning capital punishment,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
Capital punishment is also finding less favor among judges across the nation. Jordan Steiker, a University of Texas Law School professor and director of the Capital Punishment Center, sees significant legal roadblocks to the death penalty in the future.
“We are on ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Wrongful convictions are a well-known phenomena in the United States; the administration of one of the world’s largest criminal justice systems virtually guarantees mistakes and failures. Famous cases such as that of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who was framed for murder and spent 20 years in prison, and whose case was made into a movie, have given rise to a robust network of attorneys and innocence projects dedicated to advocating for the wrongfully convicted in the U.S.
But America is not the only country that struggles with convicting the innocent. Public defenders and scholars in Israel are becoming more vocal about rising numbers of wrongful convictions in the Jewish state. In a recent book, law professor Boaz Sangero estimated that up to 5 percent of convictions in Israel are wrongful.
“There’s a problem in Israel,” said deputy public defender Anat Horovitz. “We’re still arguing over whether there could be wrongful convictions at all. We’re burying our heads in the sand.”
To bring attention to the problem, Israel’s Public Defender’s Office sponsored a film and panel discussion on International Wrongful Conviction Day. “The Hurricane,” the movie based on Rubin Carter’s wrongful conviction, was shown. However ...
by David M. Reutter
Tennessee prison officials “turn a blind eye” to the medical needs of prisoners infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV), a class-action lawsuit filed in July 2016 alleges. While it is likely that almost half of all Tennessee state prisoners have the disease, prison officials cite costs as a reason to deny care to all but the sickest.
HCV, which has infected between 2.7 million and 3.9 million people nationwide, kills more Americans than HIV and dozens of other infectious diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers at Emory University estimate that at least 17% of the nation’s 1.3 million state prisoners have HCV, on average. That is an epidemic level when compared to the estimated 1% of the general population infected with the disease.
Prison officials in Tennessee were, at one time, determined to identify prisoners who have HCV.
“We started for a while doing a hepatitis panel on everybody. And we stopped that because we found out there were too many people who had hepatitis C, and then if you’re going to do that, you’re going to have to do something about that [by providing medical care ...
by David M. Reutter
Following the reversal of his homicide conviction by the Louisiana Supreme Court in November 2016, death row prisoner Rodricus Crawford, 29, was released on $50,000 bond after serving three years in prison. A new prosecutor reviewed the case and, on April 14, 2017, announced the dismissal of the charges.
Crawford, from Shreveport, was convicted in 2013 of first-degree murder in connection with the death of his one-year-old son, Roderius Lott. Attorney Cecelia Kappel, with the Capital Appeals Project in New Orleans, worked on Crawford’s case and recalled his faith that justice would eventually prevail.
“Every time I’d go see him on death row and say we lost another motion, he’d say, ‘I’m going home,’” she observed.
Crawford’s son had what seemed to be a cold when he slept with his father the last two nights of his life. The third morning, Crawford, then 22, found the boy was not breathing. Family members attempted CPR and called paramedics, who pronounced the child dead. They also noticed he had a split lip and bruise-like markings on his hip and head. Crawford later told police that his son had fallen in the tub when he went to ...
by Christopher Zoukis
The New York City Department of Correction and city officials are rethinking their policy of releasing prisoners without jackets during frigid winter months.
The New York Daily News reported in December 2016 that the city was routinely freeing prisoners from jail and court without proper winter clothing. Beleaguered public defenders and legal aid attorneys went so far as to keep a stash of coats on hand, many of which were donated by the lawyers themselves.
“It is inhumane and dangerous to release people into the cold in New York City without appropriate clothing, especially when they have far to travel from the courthouse,” said Sara Kerr, a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project.
Apparently, the New York Daily News article touched a nerve. Donated clothing began flooding into local Legal Aid Offices. Gary Bagley, executive director of the nonprofit New York Cares, donated 70 coats which were distributed to courthouses around the city.
“The response has been enormous,” said Tina Luongo, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Practice Section. “I think when you see someone without a coat, even at Rikers [Island jail complex], people say this is not ...
by Matt Clarke
On January 23, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed in part a district court’s grant of summary judgment to an Oklahoma state trooper and jailers who failed to obtain medical care for a prisoner after mistaking a brain injury for intoxication. An amended appellate ruling resulted in the same findings.
Clyde Rife was sitting astride his motorcycle next to a road when he was approached by Oklahoma State Trooper Joe Jefferson. It became clear that Rife could not remember the date, time or what he had been doing in the town he just left. Jefferson noted evidence of an accident, including grass and marks on the motorcycle and on Rife’s clothing, and dried blood from Rife’s nose. Rife said he was okay and denied having had an accident or using drugs.
Jefferson administered tests and made observations that caused him to conclude Rife was intoxicated with pain killers. Those observations included constricted pupils, lethargy, nystagmus (uncontrolled eye movements), slurred speech, dizziness and Rife’s statement that he felt “floaty.”
Rife did not exhibit uneven dilation of the eyes, uneven tracking or resting nystagmus – which would be indications of a brain injury. Jefferson arrested Rife ...
Reversing the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by pretrial detainees at a Missouri jail, the Eighth Circuit held in a January 17, 2017 decision that depriving them of clothing up to three nights a week was more than a de minimus deprivation of their rights and might plausibly be unconstitutional punishment.
As representatives of the putative classes of current and former pretrial detainees at the Cole County Detention Center, Fineola Ingram, Justin Simmons and Brian Boykin filed a federal civil rights action in July 2015 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging the jail’s laundry policy violated their constitutional rights. One to three times weekly, jail staff collected all of the prisoners’ clothing, including underwear, and washed them during the night. The clean clothing was returned about seven hours later.
During that time, the detainees had only a bed sheet and blanket with which to cover themselves. Their nakedness was exposed to cellmates during that time. Jail policy prohibited them from covering their cell windows, so jail staff of both genders could also see them naked. Further, the clean clothing was sometimes returned by guards of the opposite gender.
The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss ...
After eight years on the job, Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) director George Lombardi submitted a letter of resignation to then-Governor Jay Nixon on December 14, 2016. Lombardi, who spent over 31 years in corrections, agreed to resign following a series of reports that exposed a vast culture of harassment and retaliation among state prison employees which resulted in millions of dollars in lawsuit verdicts and settlements.
However, Lombardi also applied to retain his position with incoming Governor Eric Greitens, though he later withdrew his application. Governor Greitens selected Anne L. Precythe, North Carolina’s former corrections director, who was confirmed by the state Senate in February 2017.
The shake-up at the Missouri DOC followed reports in Kansas City’s alternative newspaper, The Pitch, that there had been an explosion in the number of complaints alleging workplace harassment based on sex, religion and disability during Lombardi’s tenure. The weekly newspaper’s investigation revealed that from 2012 to 2016, the state paid over $7.5 million to settle lawsuits and pay judgments, some of which were for retaliation for reporting workplace misconduct.
Governor Greitens did not try to hide his opinion of Lombardi.
“Missouri’s Department of Corrections is broken and that puts public safety ...
by Matt Clarke
On January 19, 2017, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the award of $36 million in damages and nearly $5 million in attorney fees to two New York men who were wrongly convicted of rape and murder, and spent 18 years in prison.
In January 1985 ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Following demands from the Afrikan Black Coalition (ABC), the University of California has agreed to terminate $475 million worth of contracts with Wells Fargo Bank. According to a press release from ABC, the terminated contracts include a $25 million commercial paper contract, a $150 million interest rate contract and a $300 million line of credit.
ABC began lobbying the University of California system to divest its assets from Wells Fargo after determining that the bank finances CoreCivic and GEO Group, the nation’s two largest private prison companies. ABC also alleged that Wells Fargo engaged in unfair lending practices in minority communities.
“Wells Fargo is the syndicating agent for CoreCivic’s (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) $900 million line of credit, a trustee for the GEO Group’s $300 million corporate debt, and are notorious for grossly discriminatory and predatory lending practices targeting Black and brown communities, evidenced by many related lawsuits and settlements,” the advocacy group wrote in a press release.
University of California representative Ricardo Vasquez and Wells Fargo representative Ruben Pulido confirmed the divestment, with Pulido noting that the bank has supported the UC system for decades and “[stands] ready to provide that ... support in ...
by Christopher Zoukis
A 17-year-old has made a startling discovery about Wisconsin: more than half of the state’s black “neighborhoods” are actually jails.
The young researcher, Lew Blank, used the Weldon Cooper Center’s Racial Dot Map and Google Maps to come to this conclusion, and released the results in August 2016. Defining a black neighborhood as “a certain area where the majority of residents are African-American,” Blank found that 31 of the 56 black neighborhoods in Wisconsin were either jails or prisons. He also determined there are 15 cities in the state where the only black neighborhood is a jail.
“And I found out that the places that weren’t jails, were great places to be,” Blank said with a heavy dose of sarcasm. “Homeless shelters, Section 8 housing (subsidized), food deserts, etc.”
Blank’s research added important context to the discourse on racial disparities and incarceration in the United States. It also exposed a little-known practice known as “prison gerrymandering,” whereby localities are able to obtain federal funding based on the racial makeup of their “neighborhoods” – i.e., jail populations. [See: PLN, Dec. 2012, p.1].
Blank became interested in social and racial justice after attending ...
by Derek Gilna
U.S. District Court Judge Robert W. Gettleman issued an injunction on May 2, 2017, holding the Cook County Sheriff’s Office accountable for insufficient efforts to accommodate the needs of disabled prisoners who must access Cook County courthouses. The injunction ordered “defendant Cook County to move the privacy screens in each of the two holding cells at the Maywood Courthouse to provide the required 56 [inches] from the rear wall of the cells.”
Five disabled Cook County prisoners who were transported from jail to various courthouses and placed in holding cells in those facilities by Sheriff’s employees filed suit, alleging numerous violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12132 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (RA), 29 U.S.C. § 794(a).
In its order, the district court noted: “On November 19, 2015, the court granted plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment, denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment and entered judgment of liability in favor of plaintiffs and against defendants with respect to plaintiffs’ individual damage claims.... [T]he court found that the holding cells in the suburban courthouses, including the courts ...
by David M. Reutter
Tattoos are virtually a rite of prison passage, and the designs, where they are placed and what they signify often have more meaning than just self-expressive body ink.
Once considered taboo, tattoos have gained wider acceptance in today’s society, especially among the younger generation. About 23% of people sport a tattoo, though the rate among prisoners is typically much higher. Of Florida’s approximately 100,000 prisoners, nearly 75,000 have a total of 300,000 tattoos.
Florida’s prison system was the subject of two recently-published articles about tattoos because the Department of Corrections’ prisoner database lists tattoos by type and location.
A 2010 study found that prison tattoos reflect the criminal lifestyle; the study made a distinction between prison and non-prison tattoos, with prison tattoos being those obtained while incarcerated or that had images reflecting prison life such as clocks, spider webs, prison bars or gang-related symbols. The study included Texas prisoners and college students at Texas Tech University.
Prison tattoos were found to indicate the prisoner harbored “a greater commitment to the criminal lifestyle with an irrational perception of entitlements or sense of power.” They also “tended to blame others for their involvement in ...
by Audry Spade
A new research study has estimated the total cost of incarceration in the United States has surged to a staggering $1 trillion per year – 11 times the $80 billion spent annually on corrections alone, and 6% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).
For many families across the United States, the high cost of incarceration is nothing new. But while prior research has made an effort to determine the total cost of crime, it wasn’t until recently, in a study conducted by the Institute for Advancing Justice Research and InnovationatWashington University in St. Louis, that the various societal costs of incarceration were factored in – things like lost wages and increased criminology among the children of incarcerated parents, as well as other collateral expenses.
Indeed, it turns out the true cost of removing millions of people from their communities and confining them in detention facilities across the nation is costing more than anyone had estimated previously.
Perhaps even more alarming, researchers also found that more than half of those costs are being shouldered directly by prisoners, their families and their communities – leaving already poor households even more impoverished. Many affected families live beneath the federal ...
by Lonnie Burton
A November 2016 report found that 67,000 prisoners were held in restrictive housing throughout the United States – also known as solitary confinement or segregation – in both state and federal facilities. The report was released soon after a group of U.S. senators introduced a bill in September 2016 that would for the first time place legal limitations on the use of solitary confinement in the federal prison system.
The bill, the Solitary Confinement Reform Act (S. 3432), was co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin, Christopher Coons, Patrick Leahy, Cory Booker and Al Franken. It would affect some 10,000 prisoners held in segregation in federal facilities, representing about six percent of all federal prisoners. The bill has remained stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee since its introduction.
Meanwhile, a trend toward reducing the use of solitary in state prisons was one of the findings reported in “Aiming to Reduce Time-in-Cell,” a joint report published by the Arthur Liman Public Interest Program at Yale Law School and the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA). The study collected data in the fall of 2015 from 48 jurisdictions, including 45 states, the federal Bureau of ...
by Matt Clarke
On March 20, 2017, an Oklahoma federal jury awarded $10.25 million to the estate of a prisoner who died at the Tulsa County Jail.
According to court documents, Elliot Earl Williams, 37, a U.S. Army veteran, was arrested by Owasso police officers responding to a ...
Alaska: The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced in a May 11, 2017 press release that a criminal defense lawyer and her incarcerated client had been charged with smuggling drugs into the Anchorage Correctional Complex. Attorney Kit Lee Karjala, 54, and prisoner Christopher B. Miller, 33, were charged with conspiracy, providing and possessing contraband in prison, and distribution of and possession with intent to distribute controlled substances. Karjala allegedly passed the drugs, including heroin, to Miller during attorney-client visits. The investigation was conducted by the FBI and Alaska State Troopers, with assistance from the Alaska DOC.
Arizona: On June 1, 2017, Eric Scott Kindley, 49, who was hired to transport prisoners from one state to another, was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting three female prisoners. Two of the assaults reportedly occurred during transports to Arizona, while one was during a trip from Mississippi to New Mexico. Kindley ran Special Operations Group 6, a private transport company. The victims said they were handcuffed and taken to secluded locations where Kindley assaulted them and threatened them with a gun. Arrested in California, he will be extradited to Arizona where the criminal complaint was filed.
Arizona: A brawl at the privately-operated Red Rock ...