California wastes tens of millions of dollars a year keeping people in prison long after they’ve been rehabilitated – denying parole for arbitrary reasons and destroying lives in the process.
by Sam Levin, East Bay Express
Part One: Cruel and Indefinite Punishment
Demian Johnson knows he has to be extremely cautious when he’s around his fiancée. He can briefly hug her when she arrives and maybe give a short kiss before she leaves. Sometimes, he can hold her hand, but they can’t have any other physical contact.
Johnson is 51 years old and is currently incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison, a men’s correctional facility in Ione, a small city in Amador County, two hours east of Oakland. His fiancée, Hilda Wade, a retired home health aide, tries to visit him every Saturday and occasionally stays overnight in a nearby hotel when she doesn’t want to do the ninety-minute drive to and from her Oakley home twice in one day.
Wade told me in a phone interview that they are careful not to break any rules when they talk in the waiting room of the overcrowded prison, which currently houses roughly 2,800 prisoners in a facility designed for 1 ...
Pennsylvania state prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, serving a life sentence for murder and diagnosed with hepatitis C, sued the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) in federal court when he was refused treatment for that life-threatening disease.
On January 3, 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Robert D. Marian granted Abu-Jamal’s motion for a preliminary injunction, ordering the DOC to let a doctor examine him within 14 days regarding his suitability for hep C treatment – an order which, given his diagnosis, effectively guarantees he will eventually receive medical care. Abu-Jamal, a well-known political prisoner who was successful in having his death sentence overturned, is a Prison Legal News columnist.
Incarcerated since 1981, Abu-Jamal filed suit in September 2016 seeking medical care after he began to exhibit symptoms of hepatitis C; however, the DOC maintained that he did not qualify for treatment. The latest generation hep C drugs cost around $84,000 to $90,000 per patient. Most medical experts agree that these drugs, including Harvoni and Solvaldi, are over 90% effective at curing hepatitis C. [See: PLN, Aug. 2015, p.22; July 2014, p.20]. Also named as a defendant in the lawsuit is the DOC’s private medical services provider, Correct ...
According to state officials, the Florida Civil Commitment Center (FCCC), which holds up to 720 residents billed as the worst sexual predators in the state, is necessary to ensure public safety. For Correct Care Recovery Solutions, a spin-off company of the GEO Group, one of the nation’s largest private prison contractors, it’s the source of $272 million in revenue.
Twenty states have laws that allow for the involuntary and indefinite civil commitment of sexually violent predators (SVPs), but only Florida has turned the operation of its commitment center over to a for-profit contractor.
“Florida is the only state whose entire SVP program is being run by a private company,” said Shan Jumper, president of the Sex Offender Civil Commitment Programs Network. “A few other states contract out pieces of their operations (psychological treatment or testing, community release supervision) to private companies.”
Moreover, Florida involuntarily commits more people than any other state (California ranks second). A new law that increases the pool of offenders Florida can consider for civil commitment will likely increase the number of FCCC residents. To accommodate the anticipated influx, state officials are considering adding a new wing at FCCC or converting a prison to handle ...
Since we started publishing PLN in 1990, the injustices of the parole system, or that of never-ending punishment and sentences without end, has been an enduring theme. In the 1970s it was prisoners’ rights activists and advocates who called for an end to parole and determinate sentencing as a means of righting the sentencing injustices that abound with a parole system. Five decades later these same problems continue. We have reported on the political vagaries of California’s parole process extensively over the past 26 years; this month’s cover story continues that coverage and exemplifies the axiom that the more things change the more they remain the same, at least with regards to our criminal justice system.
I would like to thank everyone who donated to our annual fundraiser. We raised over $60,000, which will allow us to hire another staff attorney to litigate and vindicate the rights of prisoners, their families and publishers who wish to communicate with them. Your donations make a real difference in the work we do and the advocacy we are able to undertake. I hope more readers and supporters consider becoming monthly donors and making a donation every month. Even small donations of $5 ...
Jamycheal Mitchell’s death in a Virginia jail cell still hasn’t been explained.
It should be a national scandal.
by Dahlia Lithwick, Slate
On August 19, 2015, 24-year-old Jamycheal Mitchell was found dead in his cell at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Virginia. New revelations in May 2016 about how state officials acted in the aftermath of his death and a $60 million lawsuit filed by his family have shown that the state’s treatment of Mitchell – in life and in death – was somehow even more horrific than previously detailed. Multiple official investigations later – and with the videotape of his last days in prison conveniently erased forever – the official line appears to be that “the system” was to blame. So, there’s apparently nothing to see here folks. Until the next time.
Mitchell, who according to his family suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder for most of his life, had been arrested four months prior to his death for stealing a Mountain Dew, a Snickers bar and a Zebra Cake from a 7-Eleven. Mitchell was denied bond, he was awaiting trial and a judge had twice ordered him moved to a state mental health hospital, but no beds were available ...
A Pennsylvania federal district court held that general issues of material fact required a jury to determine whether a prisoner’s Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated when he was held in solitary confinement for over 22 years. Before going to trial, however, the case settled for just under $100 ...
On August 3, 2015, Bannum, Inc., a provider and operator of halfway houses for federal prisoners following their release, filed an amended complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the federal Bureau of Prisons and various BOP officials, alleging they had “engaged in a pattern of conduct over the past several years that has had the effect of debarring Bannum from receiving any new contracts from the BOP.” The lawsuit requested declaratory relief, a permanent injunction and $10,000,000 in damages.
Bannum’s suit was unusual in that the company has been a BOP contractor since 1984 and in good standing for close to three decades. Until 2011, the company operated up to 17 halfway houses, also known as Residential Reentry Centers. But after a falling out with the BOP, that number plummeted to six.
According to Bannum, the issue was twofold: various federal officials were angry that the company dared to assert its contractual rights when the BOP violated them, and several high-ranking BOP employees left their positions and were subsequently hired by Dismas Charities, Inc., a Bannum competitor. Those employees included defendants Osoria Toston, formerly a BOP Contract Oversight Specialist and ...
On December 29, 2015, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of a lawsuit alleging federal prison officials had failed to properly search prisoners who were placed in a recreation cage where they assaulted and repeatedly stabbed another prisoner.
Federal prisoner Joshua Rich was incarcerated in the Special Housing Unit at USP-Hazelton when he was beaten and stabbed multiple times by other prisoners in a recreation cage. He suffered severe injuries – including liver and heart lacerations – which required numerous invasive surgeries. A nine-inch metal knife was recovered at the scene.
Prior to that incident, Rich had been repeatedly assaulted at several different prisons by members of the Aryan Brotherhood (AB) because he refused to join or be affiliated with the gang. Rich filed suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b), alleging prison officials were negligent in failing to protect him from the attack. Before Rich could conduct discovery, the district court granted the government’s motion to dismiss on the basis of the FTCA’s discretionary exception. Rich filed an appeal with the assistance of Wheeling, West Virginia attorney Jay Thornton McCamic.
The discretionary function exception to the FTCA protects ...
A recent study by the research firm Child Trends revealed a stunning consequence of our nation’s policy and practice of mass incarceration: one out of every fourteen children in the U.S. has a parent who is currently or has previously been incarcerated. In other words, a staggering seven percent of America’s youth – an estimated five million children – has a parent who has spent time in prison or jail. [See: PLN, June 2016, p.34].
For black children the numbers are even bleaker: one out of every nine black children under 18 has a parent who is or has been incarcerated. Further, according to a May 2016 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, one in 28 Latino children and one in 57 white children has an incarcerated parent.
The Child Trends study was based on the National Survey of Children’s Health, with the goal of understanding both the prevalence and consequences of parental incarceration. The study found the number of children impacted by parental incarceration is about three times higher than indicated by earlier reports, which only counted children with a parent currently in prison or jail.
Sadly, the study’s authors noted their estimate of five million children ...
A Michigan federal district court has allowed portions of a lawsuit challenging the adequacy of dental care provided to state prisoners to proceed.
Michigan prisoners Robert Johannes, Michael Woroniecki, Phillip Turner and Roger Stephenson alleged the dental care they received while incarcerated was constitutionally inadequate, and sought class-action status for their claims. [See: PLN, Dec. 2015, p.33].
On September 25, 2015, the court denied without prejudice a motion to certify the class. The defendants, Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) Director Heidi Washington and Dr. Dalton Sanders, then moved for summary judgment, and a magistrate judge recommended their motion be granted. Before the district court were the parties’ objections to that report and recommendation.
The prisoners asserted “systematic deficiencies in how the defendants choose to deliver dental care, due to the reduction in the number of dentists hired, and the issuance of a modified policy directive requiring a minimum two years wait once you enter a prison to even be placed on a waiting list and requiring a prisoner to wait five years for replacement of dentures.”
The amended complaint encompassed those and five class-related claims, including unwritten MDOC practices of extracting rather than repairing teeth, and refusing or ...
In August 2016, the Alameda County, California Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to end its ties with Corizon Health, Inc., and awarded a contract for county jail medical services to California Forensic Medical Group (CFMG).
The contract, worth $135 million over a three-year period, was issued to CFMG over the protestations of Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern. As reported by local news outlet KTVU, Ahem had received more than $100,000 in campaign contributions from Corizon.
Corizon and Prison Health Services (which merged with Correctional Medical Services to form Corizon in 2011) had been contracted to provide medical care at two Alameda County jails since 1988. Precipitating the loss of the Alameda County contract were complaints of poor medical services, claims of negligent prisoner deaths and labor conflicts.
In 2010, the family of an Alameda County prisoner, Martin Harrison, allegedly the victim of inadequate medical care, received an $8.3 million settlement from Corizon and the county. According to the attorney representing Harrison’s family, the settlement was the largest of its kind in California history. [See: PLN, March 2015, p.54].
In a December 2, 2013 letter to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, Dr. Calvin Benton of Oakland, California wrote ...
Currently a third of all Australian women prisoners return to prison following their release, but a new pilot program initiated by the government in the state of Western Australia hopes to change those recidivism rates.
According to a November 28, 2016 news report, international conglomerate Sodexo will receive 15,000 Australian dollars ($11,000 U.S.) for each prisoner who stays out of prison for two years post-release, provided the number of such successful former prisoners surpasses a certain level.
Rebecca Hamilton, director of strategic policy at Western Australia’s Department of Corrective Services, said the move was intended to ease overcrowding in the state’s women’s facility. She added that the UK has had measurable success with a similar program.
“So basically what we’re saying to Sodexo is if you can successfully provide programs for a woman so she doesn’t reoffend then we’ll pay you more for that than we will for a woman who comes back into the system,” Hamilton explained.
Sodexo has held the contract to operate the 256-bed Melaleuca Remand & Reintegration Facility since June 2016. Western Australia’s two other private prisons are both run by UK-based Serco. John Welsch, secretary for the Western Australian Prison Officers’ ...
A report by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Justice, released in August 2016, faulted the quality and effectiveness of the Release Preparation Program (RPP) provided to federal prisoners by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The OIG identified “several weaknesses in the BOP’s implementation of its RPP that hinder the BOP’s efforts to successfully transition inmates back into the community.”
The report was the most recent in a series of reviews that have spotlighted the BOP’s inability to properly and efficiently create and administer programs mandated by Congress and the Department of Justice. Specifically, most of the investigative studies have focused on the BOP’s failure or unwillingness to compile and publicize statistics that indicate whether its programs are achieving the desired results.
According to the OIG, the weaknesses it identified “include the BOP’s inability to ensure that RPPs across its institutions meet inmate needs; the low level of RPP completion; the BOP’s lack of coordination with other federal agencies ... and the BOP’s inability to determine the RPP’s effect on recidivism.”
The study relied upon a review of RPP procedures at several federal prisons in California. One news article noted that a ...
By Equal Justice Initiative
Forty-five years after Phillip Chance traveled from his home in Detroit, Michigan to visit family in rural Choctaw, Alabama, he died in an Alabama prison.
During that visit in 1971, 15-year-old Phillip Chance and his older brother went with their cousin to a local convenience store, where their cousin robbed and killed the store clerk. Phillip cooperated with the police and told them where his cousin hid the stolen money, but the Alabama prosecutors claimed Phillip and his brother helped plan the robbery and charged all three black teenagers with the murder of the white clerk. Phillip’s lawyer advised him to plead guilty and assured Phillip he would get out of prison in a year based on good behavior. Phillip pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment with parole.
Phillip was sent to an adult prison, where he was such an exemplary prisoner that he earned his way from a maximum-security prison to a work-release program, where he was assigned to drive a Department of Corrections van. In 1981, despite his excellent behavior and trustworthiness, the Alabama parole board denied Mr. Chance parole, asserting that he was a threat to the community. A few days later, Mr. Chance walked ...
Five former prisoners who were wrongfully convicted in a home invasion murder have received settlements and compensation totaling nearly $8 million following a botched investigation and misconduct by the sheriff’s office in Buncombe County, North Carolina.
Three masked men entered the Fairview home of Walter R. Bowman on September 18 ...
In 1997, Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera and Anna Vasquez were convicted of sexually assaulting two young girls. The women came to be known as the “San Antonio Four.”
With help from the Innocence Project of Texas, all four were eventually exonerated. Rivera had been paroled in 2012 but the other women were released on bail in 2013 after new evidence came to light. According to a November 23, 2016 ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, “They are innocent. And they are exonerated. This court grants them the relief they seek.” See: Ex parte Mayhugh, 2016 Tex. Crim. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1057 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016).
“I still can’t grasp the fact of just being free, finally, after all this time,” said Ramirez. “Unbelievable. It’s been a long time coming, 22 years now,” Vasquez added. “I called my mom, my family, and we’re just filled with joy today. We’re so thankful,” stated Rivera.
District Attorney Nico LaHood said of the ruling, “It has been a long legal process for these women and our office has worked with the defense to ensure justice was done in this case. With today’s announcement, we believe ...
Louis Berger, a New Jersey-based engineering firm, was tapped as a subcontractor for the construction of a prison to replace the dilapidated Oahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC), despite having a checkered history of legal troubles and accusations of fraud and corrupt practices.
The improprieties allegedly committed by Louis Berger span nearly a decade and surfaced in 2006 when a former accounting executive filed a whistleblower suit that accused the company of fraud involving the federal government. As a result of that lawsuit, a 2010 deferred prosecution agreement required Louis Berger to pay $18.7 million in criminal fines plus $50.6 million in civil penalties. The company was also placed under federal monitoring.
According to a September 6, 2016 article in the Honolulu Civil Beat, it appeared that neither the Hawaii Department of Public Safety nor the state’s Department of Accounting and General Services had vetted Louis Berger before awarding the firm nearly $1.3 million to assist in replacing the aged OCCC. The project’s general contractor, Architects Hawaii, declined Civil Beat’s request for comment.
“There are certainly some red flags that are raised with the selection of this subcontractor,” said State Senator Will Espero, vice chair of the ...
Following a damning report, a private security company lost its contract to run a juvenile detention center in the United Kingdom, then later said it intends to sell off its UK-based juvenile operations.
Until May 2016, the Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre (STC), located in Northamptonshire, England, was operated by private contractor G4S. [See: PLN, July 2016, p.24]. Rainsbrook houses boys and girls aged 12 to 18, and is subject to oversight by the British government. In February 2015, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (OFSTED), in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice’s Inspectorate of Prisons and the Care Quality Commission, issued a report that slammed the facility as “inadequate.”
The heavily-redacted OFSTED report was released to Article 39, a children’s rights advocacy group, and made public by The Guardian in May 2015.
The Rainsbrook STC, which at the time it was inspected held 77 children, was accused of “serious incidents of gross misconduct ... by staff, including some who were in positions of leadership.... Poor staff behavior has led to some young people being subject to degrading treatment, racist comments, and being cared for by staff who were under the influence of illegal drugs,” ...
Controversy arose at a November 12, 2015 Escambia County Commission meeting in Pensacola, Florida over a plan to construct a new jail. The county’s old jail had been damaged by a flood and natural gas explosion the previous year. Of three possible locations for the new facility, a consulting firm recommended a parcel of land that included the former site of the Escambia Wood Treating Company (EWTC).
DLR Group, the consulting firm hired by the Commission to plan a new 1,476-bed jail, was reported as saying the site had a greater upside than the other potential locations because it would be about $2 million cheaper to acquire.
EWTC was forced to close by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the 80s, after it was found to have contaminated an underground aquifer and hundreds of thousands of tons of soil.
The EWTC location was designated a Superfund site, resulting in 358 families being moved out of the area between 1997 and 2003 to avoid exposing them to toxic dust during the clean-up process.
Despite a settlement that stated the EWTC location would not be used as residential property, the tainted site, now called the Mid-Town Commerce site, was a contender ...
On January 9, 2017, Seattle attorneys Edwin Budge and Erik Heipt said they plan to file a federal lawsuit on behalf of the family of a teenager who died after warning jailers he had a heart condition and had previously required resuscitation. Although 19-year-old Andrew Westling wasn’t a tribal member, when he was arrested on April 10, 2016, police in the city of Yelm took him to the Nisqually Corrections Center – a tribal jail in nearby Thurston County. There, after telling a guard he felt like his heart was “thumping out of his skin,” he was found dead roughly 24 hours after being booked into the facility.
A Thurston County coroner listed the cause of Westling’s death as “cardiac dysrhythmia due to congenital coronary artery heart anomalies,” and described the manner of death as natural. However, according to a medical specialist retained by attorneys representing Westling’s family, his heart condition was “familiar, readily recognized, and easily treatable.” University of Washington medical professor Richard Cummins added, “If it were not for the unreasonable neglect of the staff of the Nisqually Corrections Center, Andrew Westling would be alive today and would very likely enjoy a normal life span ...
As a result of two federal lawsuits brought on behalf of eight plaintiffs, in October 2016 the Colorado town of Trinidad agreed to pay $775,000 to the victims of its police department’s incompetence and over-reliance on a snitch who was bent on fingering those she held vendettas against.
In a September 16, 2015 ruling, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that a district court had improperly dismissed an Illinois jail prisoner’s failure-to-protect lawsuit based on his refusal to sign a medical release form.
Mario Reyes was a pretrial detainee at the Cook County Jail in Chicago when he was attacked and stabbed by other prisoners, resulting in serious, permanent injuries. He filed a pro se federal civil rights suit against Sheriff Thomas Dart and two jail employees, alleging that he cried out for help while being assaulted but a nearby guard ignored his pleas. He claimed the defendants were liable for failing to create or enforce policies necessary to protect prisoners.
After answering the complaint, the defendants’ attorney sent Reyes five letters over the course of six months demanding that he sign a general medical release for his records held by Cermark Health Services, Cermark Hospital and John H. Stoger, Jr. Hospital. The release would have let the defendants obtain any of his medical records from those institutions since the time he was born, and contained no restrictions as to with whom they could share the records. It also contained demands for specific records, such as Reyes’ ...
On November 9, 2016, death penalty opponents led by former state Attorney General John Van de Kamp and former El Dorado County supervisor Ron Briggs filed a lawsuit challenging Proposition 66, which had been approved by voters just a day earlier.
Prop. 66 is an initiative intended to speed up executions, but the suit claims it would cause “confusion and upheaval” in the courts, interfere with judicial authority, and force both courts and attorneys into hurried and less-reliable decisions in capital cases. Prop. 66 passed with a slim 50.9% majority while voters rejected a competing initiative, Prop. 62, which would have made life without parole the mandatory sentence for capital murder, effectively repealing the death penalty in California.
The prosecutor-sponsored Prop. 66 contains provisions that require the state Supreme Court to rule on death penalty appeals within five years of sentencing. Another provision requires criminal defense attorneys to take on capital cases as well as non-capital cases if they accept court appointments. The initiative also eliminates administrative review of single-drug execution protocols.
“Proposition 66 was passed by the voters because they are sick of lawyers who oppose the death penalty constantly undermining the system with lawsuit after lawsuit,” ...
Two Oregon jail employees who pleaded guilty to 40 criminal charges were sentenced to 36- and 50-month prison terms for having sex with the same prisoner 19 times.
Jill Curry, 38, a civilian jail services technician at the Washington County Jail since 2004, and the wife of a sheriff’s deputy, was apparently bored with her life.
Between May and July 2014, Curry repeatedly let 25-year-old prisoner Jeng-Li Delgado-Galban out of his cell and took him to a supply closet to engage in sex.
Curry told someone she was having sex with Delgado-Galban and that person reported her, according to an affidavit released by law enforcement officials on August 20, 2014. Investigators then secured video footage of Curry and Delgado-Galban entering the closet together at least six times. Curry later admitted to having an improper sexual relationship. [See: PLN, July 2016, p.63; May 2015, p.63; April 2015, p.63].
Delgado-Galban, a reported gang member, was in custody on charges of tampering with a witness, sexual harassment, failure to register as a sex offender, false swearing, harassment, second-degree assault and unlawful use of a weapon. He reportedly testified against Curry before the Washington County Grand Jury.
Following her indictment on ...
Mesa, Arizona police lieutenant Rick Van Galder apparently thought he deserved special treatment after his DUI arrest – and he got it.
Van Galder was stopped by rookie officer Gonzalo Dominguez on February 12, 2016 after a concerned citizen called 911 to report a possible drunk driver. The inebriated Van Galder asked the young policeman to extend him “professional courtesy,” and was heard on dashcam video saying he found it “ridiculous” that Dominguez would consider arresting him. Nonetheless, Lt. Van Galder was taken into custody; he subsequently pleaded guilty to Super Extreme DUI for having a BAC of .200 or higher, and was sentenced to three days in jail and 11 days on house arrest.
On August 4, 2016, Van Galder self-surrendered to the Scottsdale City Jail, where he had made special arrangements to be housed to avoid doing his time in Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Maricopa County Lower Buckeye Jail. He wasn’t strip searched during the booking process and was allowed to keep his clothing and shoes. Van Galder was allowed to stay in the office of Detention Manager Jeff Landrum, unsecured and unsupervised. Jailers delivered outside food to him, and his wife, a Mesa homicide detective, visited him ...
A recent study illustrates just how racially skewed the U.S. criminal justice system is with respect to its most powerful participants: prosecutors.
Of 2,437 elected state and local prosecutors holding office in 2014, 95 percent were white and 79% were white men, according to data released by the San Francisco-based Women Donors Network (WDN).
Considering that white males make up just 31 percent of the U.S. population, the paucity of black and Hispanic prosecutors is telling; prosecutors have been empowered by state legislatures to act all but autonomously in determining the fates of hundreds of thousands of criminal defendants, most of whom are disproportionately black and Hispanic.
“The tremendous power and discretion in the hands of prosecutors, combined with the concentration of those positions among one demographic group, virtually guarantees inequality in our criminal justice system,” said Brenda Chores-Carter, director of WDN’s Reflective Democracy Campaign, in a written statement.
The data, compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Technology and Civic Life, indicated that 14 states – Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming – had exclusively elected white prosecutors in 2014. In two other states, Kentucky ...
A Kentucky Court of Appeals held on February 26, 2016 that prisoners have a due process right to request the review of audio recordings at a prison disciplinary hearing.
Proceeding pro se, Kentucky state prisoner Sammy F. Mobley, Jr. argued he was denied due process by prison officials who convicted him of a disciplinary infraction “without sufficient evidence to support that conviction.” The trial court dismissed his petition for relief, finding he had been allowed to present a defense at his disciplinary hearing.
The controversy arose while Mobley was imprisoned at the Roederer Correctional Complex, which includes a farm. On December 25, 2013 and January 6, 2014, he placed six phone calls to his wife. Two guards wrote Mobley a disciplinary report on January 14, alleging that during those calls he used “coded language” in an attempt to have his wife deliver contraband to the prison farm.
At the disciplinary hearing, the evidence consisted of the guards’ written report containing Mobley’s alleged incriminatory statements and his prior record, which included a 2013 attempt to arrange a contraband delivery. Mobley presented a statement regarding the phone conversations and pictures of his own farm, in support of his argument that his ...
Since 2009, New York State has closed 14 prisons in an effort to reduce costs and better utilize correctional resources as its prison population has decreased. [See: PLN, June 2013, p.1; April 2009, p.1].
While it’s unusual that a prison system would opt to close facilities, the backside of the story is how the shuttered prisons are being put to use. Of the 14 closed facilities, two are now being used to help rather than incarcerate people: Bayview Correctional Facility and Fulton Correctional Facility. More importantly, the prison closures have coincided with a decline in crime rates – indicating it’s possible to downsize prisons without incurring an increase in crime.
Bayview Correctional Facility, a 153-bed women’s prison, closed in 2013. Since then it has been acquired by the NoVo Foundation, supported by musician Peter Andrew Buffett and his wife Jennifer, and is being converted into the Women’s Building – a location where women and girls can go for training, office and conference space, and events related to women’s rights. It also plans to offer child-care services.
This transformation is possible due to a 50-year lease and a partnership with the Goren Group, a women’s real estate firm. In ...
“Absolute immunity” typically allows prosecutors to escape liability in the event of malicious prosecutions. Even when prosecutorial misconduct is exposed, the punishment is usually far less severe than that experienced by the victim of the state’s wrongdoing – such as spending many years in prison. [See: PLN, Nov. 2014, p.1].
In 2007, former Hancock County, Maine assistant district attorney Mary N. Kellett prosecuted a defendant named Vladek Filler. During the proceedings, Kellett edited out video evidence in which Filler’s estranged wife admitted she had fabricated accusations of child molestation and spousal rape against her husband. Kellett also failed to turn over a recording of a 911 call made by his wife. Without that evidence being provided to his defense attorneys, Filler was convicted in 2009. The conviction was later vacated and he was retried and convicted of misdemeanor assault in 2011. He then filed a complaint against Kellett, who was sanctioned in 2013 for violating rules of the bar. Filler was exonerated of the misdemeanor charge in 2015 and is now suing Kellett in federal court.
On November 1, 2016, the Washington Examiner reported that the American Civil Liberties Union had filed a friend of the court brief on ...
Problems for Aramark and its prison food service operations continue to mount. Shortly after being taken to task and fined by at least two state corrections departments due to substandard food quality, understaffing and meal preparation areas contaminated by maggots, the company has been accused of overcharging the State of Michigan $3.4 million related to its contract with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC).
Aramark was the subject of a Prison Legal News cover story in December 2015 that highlighted problems in the company’s prison food service operations in Michigan, including maggot infestations in kitchen areas and an employee who served food to prisoners that had been thrown away because it was nibbled on by rats. Other Aramark employees were barred from state prisons due to misconduct that ranged from improper sexual relationships and smuggling drugs to an attempt to have a prisoner beaten by other prisoners.
Such incidents led Michigan officials to terminate Aramark’s prison food service contract effective September 2015.
According to the findings of a preliminary state audit released in December 2015, Aramark failed to properly implement the “MealTrac” system, which was designed to automatically count the number of meals served to prisoners for billing purposes ...
A Georgia state jury awarded $50,000 to a woman for false arrest and imprisonment by Sentinel Offender Services, a private probation company. The award was the outcome in the first trial of more than a dozen lawsuits filed against the company.
Kathleen Hucks was sentenced to two years of misdemeanor probation in April 2006. In 2008, her sister paid off the $3,256 Hucks owed the court. Sentinel, however, kept Hucks under its supervision because she had not completed a risk-reduction class or shown proof of drug and alcohol treatment.
It was not until 2012 that Hucks was finally released from probation, but only after she was jailed after Sentinel obtained an arrest warrant because she had failed to pay accumulated fees of nearly $300.
Hucks was repeatedly hospitalized between 2006 and 2012 for seizures and a heart problem. Upon her arrest, her husband took her medication to the jail but it was not accepted. Three days later she had a seizure. “She could have died,” her husband testified.
For the next three weeks, Hucks sat in jail awaiting a hearing. Within minutes of appearing before the court, she was ordered released because her sentence had expired in ...
Genesis Behavioral Services, a private company, contracts with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) to provide community corrections services to male offenders at a facility in Kenosha – including certified substance abuse, mental health, domestic violence intervention and cognitive intervention programs. However, a recent audit spurred by complaints from a whistleblower revealed that Genesis routinely violated the terms of its contract.
According to the DOC audit, released on January 10, 2017, Genesis operates a 20-bed residential facility called Options House, which is staffed by three counselors, five resident assistants and an office assistant. Genesis entered into a new two-year contract with the DOC to provide community corrections services on May 1, 2016.
Last August the DOC received “an unsolicited ten-page spreadsheet” from a resident “regarding the lack of programming, recordings and paperwork he had prepared relating to the daily operations” at Options House. The whistleblower provided “a daily account of activities that were not in compliance with the contract program schedule” from June 20 through August 9, 2016. Deficiencies at the facility included residents watching numerous movies unrelated to the curriculum, such as Independence Day, Happy Gilmore and Hunger Games; sessions beginning late or ending early; and some sessions not ...
On December 23, 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown granted 112 pardons and commuted one prison sentence in a continuation of his tradition of issuing pre-Christmas reprieves. Most of the pardons were provided to people who had already completed their sentences for nonviolent drug-related crimes.
In one case, Gwendolyn Irene Harvey received a pardon for her 1988 convictions for robbery and possession of a controlled substance for sale. Governor Brown noted in his pardon message that Harvey had co-founded an organization that advocates for people in substance abuse programs. Louis Calderon was granted a commutation from 32 years to life to 22 years to life for a 1999 gang-related shooting in which the victim lost an eye. Brown wrote, “This is a very serious crime, but it is clear that Mr. Calderon has distinguished himself by his exemplary conduct in prison and his forthright and continuing separation from gang activities of any kind.”
Brown has granted 854 pardons and two commutations since 2011. California governors haven’t been nearly as generous with their pardon power in the recent past; former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger granted only 15 pardons, Gray Davis granted none and Pete Wilson granted just 13.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has held that prison officials do not have to treat medical conditions that could result in a prisoner’s impotence or infertility.
When Shemtov Michtavi was incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Allenwood, Pennsylvania, he received laser surgery on his prostate. The surgery caused a hole that allowed semen to leak into his bladder; this resulted in retrograde ejaculation, a condition that can cause impotence.
The physician who performed the surgery had been privately contracted by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). She recommended Psuedofel to treat Michtavi’s condition. BOP officials refused to prescribe the medication, stating it was the agency’s policy “that treatment of a sexual dysfunction is not medically necessary, and medical providers are not to talk to inmates about ejaculation since it is a prohibited sexual act.”
Michtavi filed a pro se federal civil rights suit against the BOP alleging the policy amounted to deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Finding that “the right to procreate is a fundamental right and the Supreme Court has recognized that a prisoner has a fundamental right to post-incarceration procreation,” the magistrate judge recommended that Michtavi’s claims ...
An October 15, 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), covering the time period from 2011-12 – the most recent period for which statistics are available – indicated that on an average day, “up to 4.4 percent of state and federal inmates and 2.7 percent of jail inmates were held in administration segregation or solitary confinement.” Compiled from data taken from the National Inmate Survey, those figures were up only slightly from the prior survey, which covered 2008-09.
According to the BJS report, “nearly 20 percent of prison inmates and 18 percent of jail inmates had spent time in restrictive housing” at some point during their incarceration.
“Restrictive housing” is a term generally applied to solitary confinement and other forms of segregation that result in prisoners being held in their cells for 22-23 hours per day. The report also revealed that various categories of prisoners were much more likely than others to be confined in restrictive housing.
BJS statistician Allen J. Beck noted that “younger inmates, inmates without a high school diploma, and lesbian, gay, and bisexual inmates were more likely to have spent time in restrictive housing than older ...
On February 25, 2016, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded a prisoner’s suit had been improperly dismissed when he “failed to do something not specified, outlined, or required by his prison’s grievance procedure.”
Before the Court was the appeal of Ohio state prisoner Shannon E. Troche. The appeal followed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to prison officials on the grounds that Troche failed to exhaust his administrative remedies under the Prison Litigation Reform Act because he did not file a step three grievance.
Troche’s civil rights action alleged that while he was housed at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) on August 20, 2001, guard Michael Crabtree “choked and assaulted him” in a secluded pan room, causing “multiple injuries that required medical treatment.”
According to his declaration before the district court, Troche initiated an Informal Complaint Resolution but never received a response. He then moved to the second step of the grievance process and submitted a notification of grievance form to the inspector of institutional services. He again received no response, so he sent correspondence to prison officials asking about the status of his grievance. Still not receiving a reply, he filed suit.
The district ...
Several recent reports have examined the impact that skyrocketing campaign spending has on state court judicial elections, and whether the infusion of cash into such races is compromising judicial impartiality and integrity.
One study, “Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-2014,” was prepared by three non-partisan organizations: Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
The study noted that judges in 39 states are elected and the vast majority of legal matters are handled by state-level courts. As such, it sought to address the degree to which election funding has impacted judicial impartiality.
Speaking to the power of money in judicial elections, the report compiled spending data on every state appellate and supreme court electoral race in all 50 states, and came up with a not-so-surprising conclusion: candidates for judicial positions who spend more than their opponents win those elections over 90 percent of the time.
Another non-partisan report, “More Money, More Problems: Fleeting Victory for Diversity on the Bench,” released by the Center for American Progress (CPA) in October 2015, found much the same result, but noted that white judicial ...
On November 12, 2015, the South Carolina Court of Appeals held the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) had erred in interpreting a statute as requiring prisoners with a second conviction for conspiracy to manufacture or intent to distribute methamphetamine to serve 85% of their sentences if they were denied the first time they became eligible for parole.
Michael Heath Bolin pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, second offense, and conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, second offense (the “two charges”). After Bolin began serving his sentences, the DOC informed him that he would be eligible for parole on the two charges, but if parole was denied when he first became eligible the offenses would then be treated as non-paroleable and he would have to serve a minimum 85% of his sentence before becoming eligible for early release, discharge or community supervision.
Bolin unsuccessfully grieved the issue, then appealed the grievance denial to an administrative law judge who upheld the DOC’s interpretation. With the help of attorney Trent Neuell Pruett, he appealed the administrative law judge’s decision to the Court of Appeals.
The appellate court held that prior to June 2, 2010, the two charges, both Class A felonies ...
On December 17, 2015, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a blanket supervised release condition prohibiting a former prisoner from dating any adult with minor children was improper because it was not supported by a factual finding or otherwise clearly substantiated by the record.
James Allen Caravayo pleaded guilty to federal charges of possession of child pornography and was sentenced to 96 months in prison followed by 10 years of supervised release. One of the special conditions of supervised release prohibited Caravayo from dating any adult with minor children; he objected to that condition, unsuccessfully. Assisted by Assistant Federal Public Defender Erik Anthony Hanshew, Caravayo appealed the special condition, alleging it violated his First Amendment right to freedom of association.
The Fifth Circuit held that, to survive a First Amendment challenge, the special condition must comply with 18 U.S.C. § 3583(d). Specifically, it must be reasonably related to one of the following: “(1) the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant; (2) the deterrence of criminal conduct; (3) the protection of the public from further crimes of the defendant; and (4) the provision of needed educational or ...
Since 2013, former New Mexico prison doctor Mark E. Walden, nicknamed “Dr. Fingers,” has faced allegations that he sexually abused a number of state prisoners. As a result of the alleged sexual assaults, he has been sued at least 15 times by 77 prisoners who were housed at facilities where Walden was employed. While the latest case was filed in January 2017, seven lawsuits have settled since 2013.
Walden, who worked for private medical services provider Corizon Health, had worked at two New Mexico state prisons operated by the GEO Group: Guadalupe County Correctional Facility (GCCF) from 2010 to 2012, and Northeast New Mexico Detention Facility (NNMDF) from February 2012 to July 2012.
The lawsuits filed as a result of Dr. Walden’s alleged improprieties have listed Walden, Corizon and GEO as defendants. Per the terms of the New Mexico Corrections Department’s (NMCD) contract with Corizon, the company and not the state agency must defend against litigation involving medical-related services.
As previously reported in Prison Legal News, Dr. Walden is accused of repeatedly sexually abusing prisoners by giving them inappropriate rectal exams for a variety of unrelated conditions and fondling their genitals. Most of his victims were young adult prisoners ...
In February 2016, the First Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a grant of summary judgment to Puerto Rico police officers in a civil rights action alleging they used excessive force against an arrestee and denied him medical care.
The lawsuit stemmed from an April 10, 2007 traffic stop after Christopher Rojas Miranda (Rojas) was observed “driving at a high speed, running stoplights, and swerving.” At the direction of officers William Perez Ortiz (Perez) and Orlando Rivera Lugardo (Rivera), Rojas exited his car and put his hands on the trunk.
When Perez asked Rojas if he was OK, Rojas began screaming that a car was following him and someone was trying to kill him. A scuffle ensued, and after Rojas was restrained with handcuffs, force was applied when he resisted being placed in the patrol car.
Once in the car, “Rojas looked nervous, sweaty, pale, wild-eyed, had veins bulging at his temple, a purplish tint to his forehead, temples and cheeks, and blackish lips.” His only apparent injury was a cut lip.
Sgt. Miguel Rodriguez Crespi (Rodriguez) arrived on the scene and suggested that Rojas be taken to a medical facility. However, Rivera thought Rojas might be a danger ...
by Brian Dolinar, Truthout
Since Ferguson, there has been a public outcry over militarized police who shoot down African Americans on the streets of our cities, but less is known beyond prison walls about guards who regularly brutalize those incarcerated. In Illinois, there is a notorious band of guards called the “Orange Crush” who don orange jumpsuits, body armor and riot helmets to conceal their identities. They carry large clubs and canisters of pepper spray, which they use liberally. A recent lawsuit names a list of horrific abuses that includes strip searches, beatings and mass shakedowns of cells.
In the decades since the 1971 prison rebellion at Attica in New York, there has been a gradual build-up of these “tactical teams,” also known as “tac teams” or Special Operations Response Teams (SORTs). Today, they are routinely used for anything from fights to reports of contraband. Only within the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) have they earned the infamous name of “Orange Crush.” Anyone who has been incarcerated in the men’s state prison system has a story about these abusive guards.
I first heard of the Orange Crush in 2005 from my pen pal Gregory Koger, then held in isolation ...
Prisoners who cause property damage in correctional facilities often receive swift punishment. It was no different for the very young prisoners held in one of the United States’ most controversial detention centers. Housed with their immigrant mothers in the GEO Group-operated Karnes County Residential Center in Texas, some creative toddlers marked on a table in the visitors’ area of the facility with crayons while their parents spoke with attorneys, prompting a ban on crayons for all children in the visitation area.
On November 17, 2016, The Guardian reported that Barbara Hines, a University of Texas adjunct professor and member of the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), had written to ICE officials. Hines said of the crayon ban, “Treating a child’s color markings as ‘destruction of property’ is altogether inappropriate. And such markings are a cost that comes with the detention of children. It is extremely disturbing that ICE’s concern for GEO’s property takes precedence over the wellbeing of the children and their mothers’ rights to legal advice.”
Lawyers working on behalf of the nearly 600 mothers and children detained at Karnes said the ban on crayons was unnecessarily punitive. A petition circulated by RAICES ...
In July 2015, the privately-run Arizona State Prison Complex at Kingman (ASP Kingman) was rocked by a protracted riot in which 16 people – both guards and prisoners – suffered injuries. Following the disturbance, the state scrapped its contract with Management & Training Corporation (MTC) and handed operation of the prison to a different contractor.
The riot caused over $2 million in damage and forced the relocation of more than 1,000 prisoners to other facilities. Further, Governor Doug Ducey ordered the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) to review security procedures at five other private prisons in the state. [See: PLN, Dec. 2015, p.63].
The resulting report by state prison officials found that a “culture of disorganization, disengagement, and disregard of ADC ... policies and fundamental inmate management and security issues” had existed at ASP Kingman prior to the disturbance, and played a substantial role in the incident. The match that apparently ignited the riot came in the form of a fight between two prisoners that MTC staff failed to control.
The 183-page ADC report found that private prisons in Arizona, managed by the GEO Group, CCA (recently rebranded as CoreCivic) and MTC, were in substantial compliance with state regulations ...
Two New York counties agreed to pay $1.85 million to settle a lawsuit over the July 2011 death of detainee Irene Bamenga while she was under the care of private medical contractor Corizon Health.
Bamenga, a French citizen, tried to enter Canada from the U.S. on July 15, 2011 with the intention of traveling to Toronto to catch a plane to Paris. She was denied entry by Canadian Customs, apparently because she did not closely resemble her passport photo.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials detained her upon re-entering the U.S., determining her visa was no longer valid. She was transported to the Allegany County Jail (ACJ) to await deportation proceedings. During booking, Bamenga informed guards that she suffered from chronic congestive heart failure (CHF), a condition that requires an extensive regimen of medications to prevent serious illness or death.
At the time she was jailed, Bamenga had a three-month supply of medication with her. Despite ICE providing those medications to jail staff, Bamenga was denied her prescribed meds from July 15 to July 18. She received “some” medications that a nurse decided was the “usual” dosage, which was not consistent with Bamenga’s regimen. She began to experience ...
In January 2016, Pennsylvania’s Northumberland County agreed to pay $7,500 to settle a former prisoner’s lawsuit alleging he was denied access to the courts, visitation, recreation and receipt of incoming publications.
While at the Northumberland County Prison, Charles Picarella, Jr., who is now housed at SCI Benner Township serving ...
Officials in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, apparently acquiescing to community opposition to profit-based and racially discriminatory policing, have scrapped plans to build a jail for misdemeanor offenders. The jail was to be financed solely through bench warrant fees levied on those charged with low-level offenses.
In October 2015, members of the East Baton Rouge Parish (EBRP) Metro Council voted against opening the proposed jail.
“We incarcerate more people than Cuba, Iran and North Korea combined, and our solution here is to put people in jail for misdemeanors, essentially traffic offenses,” Councilman John Delgado said during the meeting. “This is obscene.”
For several years, EBRP officials had planned to open a jail to hold misdemeanor offenders and fund it with bench warrant assessment fees paid by arrestees. The facility would have been open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and would have held low-level criminals such as traffic law violators.
According to Louisiana 19th Judicial District First Assistant District Attorney Mark Dumaine, it would have cost about $100,000 to keep the misdemeanor jail open for a two-week period and about $2.2 million annually for around-the-clock operations. The plan had been to open the jail for two ...
A Massachusetts sheriff made a personal offer to President Donald Trump shortly before Inauguration Day that drew swift condemnation from civil rights advocates. On January 5, 2017, Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, a Republican, announced that he would make county prisoners available to build Trump’s promised wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Hodgson, who made the controversial offer shortly after being sworn in to a fourth term as sheriff, didn’t say who would pay for the transportation, housing and security needed to carry out his proposal. Trump has repeatedly stated a border wall would be paid for by Mexico.
Laura Rótolo, staff counsel with the ACLU of Massachusetts, said Sheriff Hodgson’s suggestion was “perverse.” She added, “It’s inhumane, and it’s most likely unconstitutional. It’s also likely an attempt by Sheriff Hodgson just to ride this wave and become famous nationally.... If Sheriff Hodgson follows through on this gimmick, the ACLU of Massachusetts is prepared to use every tool in our toolbox, including litigation, to stop him.”
In a statement, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, criticized Hodgson’s offer. “This proposal has no basis in law or, frankly, common sense,” she said. “Our sheriffs have led ...
Afghanistan: On August 8, 2016, Robert Langdon, a 44-year-old Australian security contractor, became the last Western prisoner to leave an Afghan prison filled with Al Qaeda and Taliban members. U.S. lawyer Kimberly Motley took Langdon’s case pro bono in 2013 and worked diligently to secure his release. “Defending Rob was the right thing to do because I believe in justness,” Motley said. “Rob was not given a fair trial, but Afghanistan’s legal system is a work in progress.” She successfully lobbied the government to pass a law in June that allows for the release of foreign detainees if there are good relations with the other country and reciprocity. The law was passed specifically to effect Langdon’s release.
Alabama: Prisoner movement was restricted at the Holman Correctional Facility on August 2, 2016 after a fight broke out in the same 150-bed dorm that was the scene of a previous violent incident in March. Bob Horton, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Corrections, said three prisoners suffered stab wounds during the initial fight and other prisoners “became aggressive” toward intervening staff members, prompting the lockdown. According to the DOC, Holman is designed to house 581 prisoners but has a ...