Thousands of arrestees a year are forced into get-out-of-jail-broke cards that are loaded up with deceptive fees.
by Arun Gupta, The Nation
A year and a half ago, after a grand jury declined to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, protests swept the nation. Portland, Oregon, was no exception. More than 2,000 people rallied outside the Multnomah County Justice Center the day after the decision was announced. Danica Brown, 48, joined hundreds who swarmed the streets, blocking traffic and bridges. A PhD candidate at Portland State University and a seasoned activist, Brown was one of seven protesters arrested that day.
Brown recalls the experience as unpleasant: As she knelt on the ground in handcuffs, one officer took a trophy photo. She was shuttled to a local police station, for a brief interrogation, then taken back to the Justice Center, where she was charged with disorderly conduct and interfering with a police officer.
Brown was released at 2:30 am on November 26, 2014, at a loss about how to get home, nine miles away. Her wallet, cell phone and keys were in her backpack at the first police station. The $30.97 she ...
In October 2015, Phillip Henry Freeman disappeared from the Liberty County Jail near Houston, Texas. He was recaptured living in a wooded area in Arkansas in late January 2016. His escape was the latest in a slew of problems at the 281-bed facility, which is operated by New Jersey-based Community Education Centers (CEC). In recent years the Liberty County Jail has experienced three prisoner deaths, including two suicides; two top jail administrators were fired amid allegations of sexual misconduct; one administrator was found to lack a state jailer’s license and the facility has failed a number of state inspections. [See: PLN, July 2014, p.47].
Freeman, 38, was last seen working in the jail’s kitchen prior to his disappearance. Jailers searched for four hours before declaring him an escapee; they remain uncertain how he absconded.
The escape “seems to encapsulate all of the problems of turning a jail over to a for-profit prison corporation,” stated Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a civil rights group that is outspoken in its opposition to prison privatization. “Including incentivizing high rates of incarceration, staffing at a very low level to maximize profits, which lead to operational outcomes like you’ve seen – ...
This issue’s cover story on release debit cards continues our coverage of this relatively recent phenomenon which exploits prisoners and arrestees by charging them fees to access their own money and all too often takes all or most of their funds when they are released from prison or jail. The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), PLN’s parent organization, has been on the forefront of reporting these abuses; we are also on the forefront of litigation challenging release debit cards and seeking justice for their victims. If you or someone you know has had their money taken and then returned on a debit card that charged fees to access the funds, or were unable to access the funds at all, please follow the instructions at the end of the cover story and contact us to let us know what happened as we want both potential plaintiffs to challenge these practices and people who can tell their stories. A copy of the paperwork provided with the debit cards, and the cards themselves, are also helpful.
We also have new books in the PLN bookstore. The Federal Prison Handbook by Chris Zoukis tells readers everything they need or want to know about ...
On January 22, 2016, a federal district court in Texas certified a class and two subclasses, and appointed class counsel, in a lawsuit challenging excessive heat at a state prison.
Keith Cole, Ray Wilson, Jackie Brannum, Dean Mojica, Richard King, Fred Wallace and Marvin Ray Yates are Texas prisoners incarcerated at the Wallace Pack Unit, a medical and geriatric facility run by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). All but Mojica suffer from physiological conditions or take medications that make them especially sensitive to excessive levels of heat.
They filed a lawsuit in federal court in 2014 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act (RA), alleging that TDCJ’s policies and practices of exposing Wallace Pack prisoners to excessive heat during the summer months endangered their health and lives, and constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The plaintiffs also argued the TDCJ had failed to make reasonable accommodations for prisoners with disabilities who are especially sensitive to heat in violation of the ADA and RA. They sought class certification and a preliminary injunction; their case was one of several challenging excessive levels of heat ...
Former President Barack Obama has been widely commended for granting a record 1,927 applications for clemency during his two terms in office from January 20, 2009 through January 19, 2017, consisting of 1,715 commutations and 212 pardons. Those figures are higher than the clemencies granted by the previous six presidents combined.
The record number of clemency applications granted by Obama, in part to address draconian federal prison sentences – including commutations for 568 prisoners serving life sentences – will perhaps be the most enduring part of his presidential legacy.
To say the announcement of Obama’s clemency initiative created excitement among the federal prison population would be an understatement. Prisoners who met the required guidelines, including having served at least ten years for non-violent offenses, submitted tens of thousands of applications. For the first time, federal prisoners could apply for commutations using the Bureau of Prisons’ computer system.
Of the 33,149 commutation and 3,395 pardon applications received during Obama’s two terms in office, 18,749 and 506 were denied, respectively, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Over 4,750 more applications were closed without presidential action. Thus, in addition to granting a record number of ...
A federal statute from the Carter era favors negotiation, but that can take a long time.
by Alysia Santo, The Marshall Project
The Harris County jail in Houston is among the nation’s largest, and it’s also one of the most deadly. Within the last decade, scores of prisoners have died, often from a lack of prompt medical care or staff misconduct, according to several independent investigations.
One report, by the Department of Justice, targeted poor medical and mental health care as factors in a string of deaths. “[T]he number of deaths related to inadequate medical care ... is alarming,” said the department, which also found excessive force by guards and safety lapses in the violent and often overcrowded facility.
But it’s hard to fix a troubled jail.
That report was issued in 2009, and in the seven years since, prisoners have continued to die preventable deaths in the Harris County jail, despite the Justice Department’s efforts to negotiate improvements. Sometimes the obstacles are local, with politicized budget battles and the effects of the way police and courts deal with arrest and detainment. But an undeniable part of the problem is also the department’s chief weapon – a 36-year-old law ...
A culture of silence pervades America’s penal system, where victims have little recourse against powerful abusers
by Daniel Denvir, Salon
In April 2015, New York Administrative Law Judge Faye Lewis recommended that Rikers Island prison guard Aubrey Victor be fired; he had, she determined, hit a prisoner in the face and stomped on his head without cause. Now, Correction Officer’s Benevolent Association lawyers are suing in the state Supreme Court to keep his records and those belonging to other guards secret.
What’s more troubling is that most already are.
New York has among the most restrictive laws governing the release of police and prison guard records nationwide: As a general practice, they don’t do it. Victor’s record became public, as the Marshall Project detailed in an October 2015 article, because he appealed to the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, which is, at least for the moment, not subject to the state’s secrecy regime.
The union argues that guard safety is at risk. In an amicus brief, however, the New York Civil Liberties Union contends that ruling in the union’s favor “would cloak in secrecy a culture of violence that pervades Rikers Island and that is the target of ...
For many people who are wrongfully convicted, being arrested for a crime they did not commit is just the first in a series of tragic events. If the arrest is traumatic, then their conviction and often lengthy incarceration is heart-rending.
But such events merely set the stage for what happens after the joyous day when an innocent prisoner is finally exonerated and released – typically years or even decades after they were sent to prison. That is when they face the consequences of the inadequate medical and mental health care they received while incarcerated. It is also when they discover that their work skills have become obsolete, making it hard for them to find jobs to support themselves, while they are frequently overwhelmed by their return to the outside world.
Thirty states and the federal government have compensation statutes that provide financial aid to wrongfully convicted prisoners, but that takes time – and 20 states provide no financial assistance. Exonerees have to apply for compensation, which must be approved by state officials; it may take months, or even years, before the first payment is made. Exonerees usually do not receive even the pittance given as “gate money” to other released ...
On February 8, 2017, the Private Corrections Institute (PCI), a non-profit citizen watchdog organization, announced its 2016 awardees for individual activism, organizational advocacy and excellence in news reporting related to the private prison industry. PCI opposes the privatization of correctional services, including the operation of prisons, jails and other detention facilities by for-profit companies such as industry leaders Corrections Corporation of America (CCA, which recently rebranded as CoreCivic) and The GEO Group, which both trade on the New York Stock Exchange.
PCI’s 2016 award for excellence in news reporting on the private prison industry went to Shane Bauer, a senior reporter with Mother Jones magazine, for his extensive first-hand account titled, “My four months as a private prison guard.” His article described his experiences working undercover as a guard at a CCA-operated prison in Louisiana – the Winn Correctional Center, which is now managed by a different contractor. Shane’s reporting was accompanied by a number of related articles and video clips, as well as a follow-up piece about the tragic suicide of a prisoner he had met while employed at Winn. [See: PLN, Aug. 2016, p.54].
“It’s a great honor to receive this award from the Private Corrections ...
Cherokee County, Oklahoma officials agreed to pay $1.5 million to the estate of a man who was brutally beaten by jail guards in 2011. The Cherokee County Governmental Building Authority approved the settlement in an executive session meeting on January 27, 2016.
According to court records, Daniel Bosh was ...
Add potential penalties for late Medicare registration to the list of hurdles that prisoners must clear if they are released after their 65th birthday. Medicare regulations impose a penalty of 10% per year for each year of delay after age 65, when eligible individuals can begin receiving Medicare benefits. Incarceration is not considered a valid excuse for avoiding the penalty, even though prisoners cannot receive benefits.
Generally, eligible persons are supposed to sign up for Medicare Part B during their initial enrollment period, which begins three months before they reach age 65 and ends three months after they turn 65. If they are already receiving Social Security when they turn 65, they will be enrolled in Medicare automatically.
Medicare Part A, which provides for payment of some hospital-related expenses after an enrolled individual reaches age 65, even if they are not yet eligible for Social Security, is free. Most people or their spouses paid the Medicare Part A fees as part of their withholding tax while they were employed. Medicare Part B, which covers some doctor bills and other medical expenses not covered by Part A, may be obtained when someone reaches age 65, but has a modest premium of ...
On March 21, 2016, a circuit court judge in Cole County, Missouri ruled in favor of several news media agencies and ordered the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) to release the identities of the pharmacies that supply lethal drugs used to execute prisoners. The court rejected the DOC’s argument that the pharmacies were part of its “execution team” and thus exempt from disclosure under Missouri’s Sunshine Law, which requires that all DOC records be open to the public “unless otherwise provided by law.”
The case began when a group of media outlets, led by The Guardian, submitted a written request to the DOC’s custodian of records requesting access to several documents, including “the name, chemical composition, concentration, and source of the drugs approved for use in lethal injection executions.” The DOC failed to produce any documents responsive to the request, arguing that the “source” of the drugs was nondisclosable because the providing pharmacies were part of the execution team and thus exempt from disclosure under section 546.720 of the Sunshine Law. That section, enacted in August 2007, states that identities of members of an execution team – which are exempt from disclosure – include personnel “who provide ...
In April 2016, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a $150,001 judgment awarded to a New York prisoner, holding the district court had erred in admitting a hearsay report as evidence.
Isidro Abascal filed a civil rights action alleging that while housed at the Attica Correctional Facility he was subjected to retaliation from guards for filing grievances. He claimed that between November 2003 and March 2005, he was prevented from leaving his cell during 14 meal times and several recreation periods. He further alleged guard Dennis Fleckenstein had physically assaulted him.
Prior to trial, the district court ruled admissible a report by the Correctional Association of New York (the “Association”).
The report was based on interviews conducted over several weeks in March 2005; it was released six months later and found a “widespread sense of fear and intimidation among inmates” at Attica. Specifically, it noted that “prisoners who make complaints about abuse or file grievances are retaliated against by staff and many are too intimidated to even raise allegations of abuse.”
At trial, the jury found the defendants had violated Abascal’s constitutional right to nutritionally adequate meals and awarded him $1 in nominal damages plus $150,000 ...
An executive order issued by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe in April 2015 made it easier for people with criminal records to be considered for state jobs. The order was another victory for the “ban the box” movement, which seeks to remove questions about criminal convictions from job applications.
Under Executive Order 41, the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management must delete questions related to convictions and criminal records from state employment applications. It must also inform state executive branch hiring staff that employment decisions cannot be based on an applicant’s criminal history unless it is clearly job-related or current law prohibits the person from being employed in the position due to the nature of the offense.
The executive order further provides that a criminal history check may not be conducted until after a job applicant has been found eligible for the position and signs a release. Finally, sensitive positions that require initial disclosure of criminal records must be identified.
“It’s all about forgiveness and giving people second chances,” said McAuliffe. “In a new Virginia economy, people who make mistakes and pay the price should be welcomed back into society and given the opportunity to succeed.”
McAuliffe’s order followed ...
The former CEO of Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc. was sentenced on October 19, 2016 to 14 months in federal prison for a bribes-for-contracts scheme in Ohio. Karen Finley, who was ousted from her position with the company that provides automated red light camera ticketing systems, was also sentenced in November ...
In April 2016, the City of Chicago agreed to pay $4.95 million to the estate of a man who was brutally beaten by police officers while in custody in 2012. The settlement came after a federal judge ruled that police had used excessive and “brute force” without cause and ...
At 1:59 p.m. on February 1, 2017, the tip line rang in the newsroom at Delaware’s largest paper. Reporters from The News Journal were the first members of the media to hear about a disturbance and hostage situation at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center that would end 19 hours later with one guard dead.
The caller, who was relaying information from her fiancé, a prisoner being held hostage in Building C, detailed some of the rebelling prisoners’ demands. She said the prisoners had taken control of their unit and were holding five prison employees hostage. They were demanding an end to “oppression towards the inmates,” specifically citing the facility’s practice of “improper sentencing orders” and “status sheets being wrong.” Later, a second call detailed the demands of the hostage-takers, who reportedly said:
“We’re trying to explain the reasons [ ] for doing what we’re doing. Donald Trump. Everything that he did. All the things that he’s doing now. We know that the institution is going to change for the worse. We know the institution is going to change for the worse. We got demands that you need to pay attention to, that you need to listen to ...
Michael Sanzo, formerly incarcerated at the High Desert State Prison near Indian Springs, Nevada, received a $60,000 settlement as a result of “unbearable pain” that forced him to remove six of his own teeth after he was denied timely dental care.
Sanzo, who served five years after pleading guilty ...
A Georgia Court of Appeals held in March 2016 that strikes for dismissed frivolous federal lawsuits do not count as strikes under Georgia’s Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA).
Since his imprisonment in 2010, Georgia state prisoner Willie Wright, Jr. has filed seven lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. All were dismissed. His sixth suit named 14 prison officials as defendants for injuries that Wright allegedly incurred when guard Antonio Brown stomped on his hand and he was denied adequate medical care.
After that case was dismissed, Wright filed related tort claims in state superior court. He requested in forma pauperis status, which the defendants opposed. They argued, and the court agreed, that the “seven previously dismissed federal lawsuits qualified as strikes” under OCGA § 42-12-7.2 of the Georgia PLRA.
Wright appealed the dismissal of his suit, challenging the superior court’s interpretation of the three strikes provision of the Georgia PLRA. Specifically, he argued the court had erred in construing the phrase “any action in any court of this state” to include the lawsuits he had filed in federal district court.
The Court of Appeals agreed. It found that as far back as ...
A Michigan federal district court twice found state prison officials in contempt for failing to comply with its orders regarding the provision of “adequate nutrition during the Islamic Month of Ramadan.” As a result, they were ordered to pay monetary damages.
The orders came in a lawsuit filed by four Michigan prisoners who alleged violations of their rights under the First and Eighth Amendments, as well as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).
The plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction on June 14, 2013, requesting that they receive adequate nutrition during the 2013 Ramadan observance, during which devout Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown. The court denied the motion, but later clarified its order to require prison officials to provide fasting prisoners with at least 2,350 calories per day during Ramadan. Prior to the end of the month-long religious observance, the prisoners moved for contempt due to prison officials’ failure to provide the required calorie count. Although the defendants argued they had supplied an average of 2,350 calories per day, the court order specified a minimum 2,350 calories per day. Thus, the district court ordered the defendants to pay each plaintiff $200 in ...
The National Employment Law Project (NELP) released a study in April 2016 that cataloged the thousands of state laws and regulations which restrict or bar people with criminal records from obtaining licenses needed to work in various professions. NELP cited an American Bar Association report that identified “over 12,000 restrictions for individuals with any type of felony and over 6,000 restrictions based on misdemeanors.”
In its study, NELP noted that “because the criminal justice system disproportionately impacts people of color,” such restrictions “perpetuate racial disparities in employment.” In short, after serving their time or completing their terms of community supervision, the estimated one-third of Americans who have some form of criminal record face daunting obstacles due to “extrajudicial penalties” – including licensing limitations.
As “no national data exists as to the number of people denied licenses because of these collateral consequences,” the study compared the impact of those consequences to the barriers a convicted felon faces in getting a “callback” for a job interview. “For example, after submitting a job application, people with [criminal] records are only half as likely to get a callback as those without a record,” the study stated.
FBI Special Agent James Hosty wrote in a recent federal criminal complaint that “Since in or about January 2013, the Atlanta Police Department ... has been investigating instances of inmates temporarily escaping from the prison camp at USP Atlanta and frequently returning to the camp with contraband.” After finding a man-sized hole in the fence at the federal lockup in January 2017, police officers placed a camera near the breach and watched a “constant flow” of prisoners leaving the facility and quickly returning. The video was turned over to the FBI.
On February 3, 2017, officials with the FBI and Atlanta Police Department staked out the site and observed prisoner Justin B. Stinson leave the prison grounds by climbing through the hole and over a second fence. He took a large duffel bag from someone parked in a car just outside the facility and returned several minutes later. When police confronted Stinson, they found the bag contained a cell phone, scissors, two 1.75 liters of Jose Cuervo tequila, two cartons of Newport cigarettes, four boxes of Black and Mild cigars and food items.
Stinson was subsequently charged with escape.
In a January 29, 2013 incident at the USP Atlanta ...
Detention centers operated by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) have become infamous over the years for incidents of abuse and neglect inflicted on youths held by the agency. The DJJ operates 21 detention centers and 56 residential facilities throughout the state – several of which have been scenes of misconduct, homicide and negligent deaths.
One of those recent deaths exposed allegations that guards put bounties on youths’ heads, resulting in assaults by other juvenile offenders.
On August 28, 2015, the day after he was booked into the Miami-Dade Regional Juvenile Detention Center, Elord Revolte, 17, was jumped and severely beaten by 15 to 20 other prisoners. The reason for the attack was uncertain.
A DJJ incident report stated that immediately after the incident, Revolte was assessed by facility medical personnel. The next day, according to the report, he was “vomiting and complained of nausea.” The report continued, “[he] was taken to medical and assessed by the facility nurse, who made a decision to send him out as a precaution.” There was a delay in transporting him to a local hospital, where he died a short time later.
A Miami Herald reporter learned that guards were ...
Overcrowding in Arkansas prisons and jails is straining resources, fomenting violence and resulting in an increase in lawsuits. The underlying cause is apparently tighter rules mandating tougher parole guidelines – which has resulted in a state prison system increasingly filled by prisoners denied parole and those re-incarcerated due to (often minor) parole violations.
In May 2013, two days following his release from prison, Darrell Dennis kidnapped and murdered 18-year-old Forrest Abrams. In the wake of that high-profile crime, the Arkansas Board of Corrections implemented new rules that restricted parole availability and triggered harsher penalties for technical violations of supervised release.
The tighter rules had an immediate impact on the prison population, resulting in a 17.7% increase from the previous year. That jump in 2013 was more than seven times the national average.
By August 2015, the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADOC) set a new population record, reaching around 19,000 prisoners – 3,000 more than its manageable population limit.
As reported by the Arkansas Times in June 2016, the ADOC took in 4,243 more prisoners in 2015 than it had in 2008. Of these, 4,158 were incarcerated due to parole or probation violations. Further, as reported ...
The Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) has had a rough couple of years. Through several rounds of law enforcement stings and federal indictments, scores of prison employees, prisoners and outside collaborators have been charged for their alleged roles in schemes to smuggle and benefit from a lucrative trade in contraband. This black market, asserted federal authorities, traded in liquor, tobacco, illicit drugs, prescription drugs and, perhaps most importantly, cell phones. According to authorities, cell phones have been integral in the commission of fraud and identity theft, as well as in the orchestration of other criminal activity from behind prison walls.
In February 2016, the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia announced indictments related to illicit contraband smuggling against 46 active and former GDC guards, two outside collaborators and one prisoner. The indictments included charges related to the importation of contraband into nine GDC facilities around the state.
The FBI, based on long-term investigations that resulted in the indictments, alleged that several GDC officers had essentially rented out their law enforcement credentials, taking thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for facilitating and protecting drug deals – actions the guards undertook while in uniform or ...
History will remember the United States as the first country in the world to privatize its prisons and jails; the modern era of prison privatization began when Corrections Corporation of America (now known as CoreCivic) was founded in the U.S. in 1983. Many other countries looked toward the United States when privatizing their own prison systems. As of January 13, 2017, data indicates that the UK, Australia and New Zealand have a higher proportion of prisoners held in for-profit facilities than the comparable proportion of U.S. prisoners.
Australia, England and Wales house one of every five prisoners in a private correctional facility, whereas in the U.S. the ratio is around 1 in 12 (or 8.3% of the state and federal prison population). The UK opened its first private prison in 1992 and currently has 14 privatized facilities. Numerous problems have been cited at such prisons, and in February 2017 a BBC documentary found that the Sodexo-operated HMP Northumberland, “one of Britain’s biggest jails, has descended into chaos, with failing alarms, prisoners calling the shots and a troubling drug problem sweeping its corridors,” according to The Telegraph.
In Australia, nine for-profit prisons have cropped up since ...
Prisoners describe a rampage by correctional officers in a New York prison.
The prisoners were just starting their day on July 6, 2016 when dozens of corrections officers burst into their dormitory, shouting for everyone to get down on the floor. The raid at Mid-State Correctional Facility, outside Utica, N.Y., officials said, was a surprise search for weapons made urgent after a bloody injury to a guard three days earlier.
But over the next two hours, according to prisoners, officers beat and stomped on each of the more than 30 prisoners present that morning, screaming curses and racial epithets and destroying property. Several men said their ribs were broken by kicks and punches. A 58-year-old prisoner said he was rammed, headfirst, through the Sheetrock wall in his room. Down the hall, a 41-year-old prisoner said his nose was broken as a guard repeatedly slammed a metal door into his face.
In a whispered interview in the visiting room of the medium-security prison, a 50-year-old prisoner from Brooklyn recalled how an officer knelt beside him as he lay on the floor. The prisoner, Raymond Broccoli, who is serving a six-year sentence for robbery, said the officer hissed, “You want to ...
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit dismissed the interlocutory appeal of a sheriff and jailer who were denied qualified immunity for the rape of a mentally ill female prisoner. It also reversed the denial of qualified immunity for another jail guard.
Aleshia C. Henderson was booked into the David L. Moss Justice Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 3, 2011. She was designated a mentally ill special needs prisoner.
Guards Dalean Lynn Johnson and Michael Thomas were working in the jail’s medical unit when Henderson was brought there on September 27, 2011 due to chest pains.
Henderson was left handcuffed and shackled in a holding cell called the “tub room.” Two unrestrained male prisoners, Williams and Johnson, were seated just outside the room.
The tub room door was initially locked, consistent with jail policy. Assuming the nurse was ready to see Henderson, guard Johnson unlocked the door some time later. She then walked away, despite knowing that prisoner Johnson was unrestrained and had watched her unlock the tub room.
Jail staff responded to a medical emergency in another area of the facility, leaving the prisoners alone in the medical unit. Prisoner Johnson told Williams he ...
The family of a prisoner who died about a week after being assaulted by guards at Michigan’s Wayne County Jail (WCJ) filed a wrongful death lawsuit in April 2015. The suit alleges inadequate medical care, and seeks $25 million in damages.
Abdul Akbar, 59, was serving a nine-month sentence for breaking and entering. On the morning of October 23, 2014, Akbar overslept and missed breakfast. Guards reported that he became belligerent and violent, smashing a computer and disregarding guards’ orders when they tried to restrain him.
According to statements Akbar made to medical personnel, he was “stomped in the face” by multiple guards. He told medical staff he was rendered unconscious from the beating, which was administered by up to eight guards. The guards and Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy contended that he was conscious at all times.
Video uncovered after Akbar’s death showed the callousness of two guards during the incident and substantiated Akbar’s claims of having been beaten unconscious. In the video, the guards are shown dragging his limp body over 100 feet down a hallway to an elevator.
Following the beating, a jail nurse determined that Akbar was “fine” with no signs of swelling and was able ...
In Georgia, a state where the death penalty is regularly imposed in cases involving multiple deaths resulting from criminal conduct, executives of the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) received relatively light federal prison sentences for their roles in corporate criminal malfeasance that resulted in the deaths of nine people. The case underscores the tilt in justice’s scales where wealthy defendants employed by powerful corporations are concerned.
In a 2009 probe, peanut products traced back to a Blakely, Georgia processing plant owned by PCA were identified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as being responsible for a salmonella outbreak that killed nine people and sickened more than 700 others in 2008 and 2009. FDA investigators reported that the outbreak was likely caused by mice droppings in the plant, which was cited for unsanitary conditions.
Georgia prosecutors declined to prosecute PCA executives, instead leaving it to federal authorities to bring charges.
As a result of an ensuing criminal investigation, federal prosecutors asserted that PCA executives falsely certified that the company’s products had been tested for pathogens and were found to be safe. Further allegations included charges that PCA executives knew the peanut products, including peanut butter, had been tainted by salmonella ...
On December 31, 2016, the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission (JDDC) issued a removal letter to Carroll County District Court Judge Timothy Parker after statements from more than a dozen women indicated he had “engaged in a pattern of personal relationships with many female litigants” who appeared in his court from approximately 2013 to 2016.
According to the JDDC, Parker admitted he had improperly performed probable cause determinations, lowered bail amounts, released defendants who were friends or former clients of his, and in some cases gave rides to defendants. In the removal letter the JDDC stated: “The bonds or release of these women or their family or friends were done by their request in exchange for sexual favors. Allegations also exist about trading cash or prescription pills for sexual favors or money with many of the same women, as well as other women in the community.”
Judge Parker resigned from the bench the same day the letter was issued and agreed never to serve as a member of the Arkansas judiciary again. He told the JDDC that his decision to step down was influenced by the effect litigation would have on his family, as well as the time ...
Six former Philadelphia prison guards nabbed in a sting related to the smuggling of cell phones and drugs into the city’s prison system have pleaded guilty to federal charges and are facing incarceration and fines. Each was indicted on federal charges.
The sting operation, undertaken jointly by the FBI and the Philadelphia Prison System (PPS), took place over several years, roughly between 2013 and 2015, and netted four current guards as well as two former officers.
“After seizing street drugs in our facilities, we knew that we needed assistance,” said PPS Commissioner Louis Giorla. The FBI set up a sting operation on Giorla’s request to help end contraband smuggling by prison staff.
Federal officials used prisoner informants to ask guards to pick up Oxycotin and cell phones from friends in exchange for $500 to $1,500.
“During the ensuing meetings, the inmates’ purported associate handed the contraband and cash to the defendant and the defendant subsequently smuggled the contraband past security and delivered it to an inmate,” said U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger.
The indicted prison guards who were actively employed at the time of the sting included Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility (CFCF) guard John Wesley Herder, 49, a ...
In unrelated cases, jail guards charged with abusing prisoners were acquitted of the most serious charges filed against them in California and Georgia.
Former jail deputies Christopher Johnson and Robert Kirsh were acquitted by a federal jury on the most serious charges stemming from an assault on prisoner Charles Alonzo Owens on June 17, 2013, at the Santa Barbara County Jail. Owens, 25, has since been convicted of several crimes and sentenced to life without parole.
A grainy, jumpy surveillance video of Kirsh beating the handcuffed Owens was shown during a week-long trial. In September 2015, the deputies were acquitted of aiding and abetting and deprivation of rights under color of law, but Johnson was convicted of the lesser offense of obstruction of justice for failing to report Kirsh. That was the deputies’ second federal trial; the first resulted in a hung jury.
In January 2016, Johnson was sentenced to six months on house arrest, three years of probation and 100 hours of community service.
In February 2016, Santa Barbara County settled Owen’s lawsuit related to the assault for $60,000. Kirsch and Johnson had both filed suit against the county as well, contending the county should have provided counsel ...
The New York Post reported on September 1, 2016 that Joseph L. Garcia and Vicki Shunkwiler Garcia, a husband and wife team whose company received a $1.2 million no-bid contract to provide special ops training to Rikers Island Emergency Service Unit (ESU) guards, had been sued by their friends ...
A convicted murderer’s brazen escape from an Illinois jail was aided by a former guard who provided him with information that “substantially assisted him,” as well as apparent incompetence among jail staff, according to the Kankakee County Sheriff’s Office.
Kamron T. Taylor, 23, made a bid for freedom from the Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee in the early hours of April 1, 2015.
The 5’9”, 170 pound Taylor had overpowered and choked unconscious a 10-year veteran guard with military experience. Wearing the guard’s uniform and using his keys, Taylor passed through at least three sets of doors after camera verification by control room staff. He then used the guard’s key fob to find the guard’s Chevrolet SUV in the parking lot, and drove away with a .38 handgun that had been left in the vehicle.
Taylor was being held at the jail awaiting sentencing after he was found guilty of first-degree murder in February 2015, stemming from a 2013 shooting during a botched robbery.
According to authorities, Taylor’s 3 a.m. escape was assisted by former jailer Tonya D. Grant, 50, who was Taylor’s aunt. Grant was charged with obstruction of justice and aiding in escape; she was ...
In June 2015, the State Bar of Texas initiated disciplinary actions against Fort Bend County District Attorney John Francis Healey, Jr. and Assistant District Attorney Mark Harold Hanna. The disciplinary petitions filed by the State Bar Commission for Lawyer Discipline alleged Healey had delayed notifying Jacob Estrada, a state prisoner who had pleaded guilty to possession of PCP in a “drug free zone,” that the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) had concluded the forensic scientist who analyzed the drugs in Estrada’s case was unreliable.
In 2007, Estrada was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison. On October 11, 2011, the trial court granted the prosecution’s routine motion to have the evidence in the case destroyed. However, it was not immediately destroyed.
On April 26, 2012, the DPS Crime Lab emailed Healey and Hanna, informing them that the DPS had “discovered errors with the analysis of drug evidence conducted by one forensic scientist in our Houston Regional Laboratory.” That analyst was Jonathan Salvador, and the DPS was investigating all the cases handled by Salvador since he began analyzing evidence at the lab in 2006. The email included a list of those cases, and Estrada’s was among them ...
The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (MDPSCS) agreed to a settlement in a class-action suit challenging conditions of confinement and the provision of medical care at the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC).
The case encompassed BCDC and the Women’s Detention Center, the Jail Industries Building, the Wyatt ...
In 2015, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (PDHS) issued a statement saying it “believes that the current use of the Berks County Residential Center (BCRC) as a family residential center is inconsistent with its current license as a child residential facility.”
The statement was hailed as a message to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which has been using BCRC and two privately-operated detention facilities in Texas to house undocumented immigrant families as they await disposition of their status by federal officials. [See: PLN, Sept. 2016, p.40]
The Coalition to Shut Down Berks County Family Detention (the Coalition), a grassroots effort supported by numerous organizations, had been pushing for the revocation of BCRC’s child care license and publicizing abuses that have occurred at the detention facility.
One incident that took place in the summer of 2014, stated a Coalition release, involved an “institutional sexual assault ... of a 19 year old in front of other detainees.” According to the Coalition, other abuses have included “the rampant medical neglect of children which led to a child vomiting blood for four days before receiving proper medical attention.”
Labor abuses involved paying women detainees $1 a day to clean the ...
The Ohio Supreme Court has reversed a lower court’s dismissal of a prisoner’s mandamus claims related to the garnishment of exempt funds in her prison account.
Ohio state prisoner Agatha Martin Williams was sentenced to 102 months and ordered to pay $166,354.94 in restitution plus a $27,500 fine.
On March 1, 2011, Williams began receiving monthly pension checks in the amount of $412.18 as part of a lifetime pension benefit. The checks were deposited directly into a checking account that Williams shared with her adult daughter, who occasionally transferred portions of those funds into her mother’s prison account.
In December 2012, Williams was served with a garnishment order seeking to attach funds from her prison account to pay the restitution judgment. She alerted prison officials that the funds in her account were pension benefits, which are exempt from attachment under R.C. 2329.66.
Prison officials denied Williams’ objections, placed her account on legal-hold status and allowed her only $25 per month to spend at the commissary. Further, they ordered that beginning in January 2013, any amount in her account in excess of $25 would be sent to the Stark County Clerk of Courts to pay ...
TrueAllele DNA testing software has been employed in hundreds of criminal cases around the country since 2009. The software is used to analyze evidence containing mixtures of genetic material and determine whether it contains a match to a suspect or DNA archived in a database. A similar DNA testing program, STRmix, has also been used in some criminal cases, including by the California Department of Justice.
While prosecutors, and even some defense attorneys, have hailed TrueAllele, some contend that in order for defendants to have a fair trial, the core “engine” of the software – its source code – must be open to scrutiny and validation. Both prosecutors and TrueAllele’s creators have consistently fought to prevent such scrutiny.
The software is a product of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania-based Cybergenetics. The company was founded by its chief scientist and executive officer, Dr. Mark Perlin, when he was a faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University.
Perlin, a computer scientist, has refused defense attorneys’ requests for access to the program’s source code, claiming it’s a patented trade secret. Defense lawyers maintain that without access to the source code, they cannot check the program for errors to ensure its results are accurate. Dr. Perlin has countered ...
It’s a well-known fact that the United States has around five percent of the world’s population but incarcerates approximately 25% of the world’s prisoners. Within that disturbing statistic is Louisiana, which has the highest per capita incarceration rate in the nation – with the U.S. Department of Justice reporting that, based on 2015 data, 776 out of every 100,000 residents in the state were in prison. That is substantially higher than Russia’s rate of incarceration (492 per hundred thousand) and China’s (119 per hundred thousand). As such, Louisiana is the global leader in imprisonment.
The average incarceration rate in the U.S., for both state and federal prison populations, was 458 per 100,000 in 2015. In the view of most public officials, jails and prisons are a necessary evil.
“I wish we didn’t have to have jails, but as long as there are human beings, we’re going to have them,” said Bossier Parish Sheriff Julian Whittington. “Not everybody’s going to follow the law, we’re adequately prepared, we have plenty of room and we’re set for the future.... And I don’t have apologies for what we do.”
Whittington runs a profitable three-jail system that has a ...
On August 17, 2015, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a Texas prisoner’s failure to fully exhaust administrative remedies was excused because jail staff had misled him about grievance procedures.
Grady Allen Davis was being held at the Dallas County Jail when guards allegedly used excessive force against him. He filed a first-step grievance but did not file the second-step grievance after the first step was denied. Davis claimed jail staff had misled him by falsely telling him there was no second step to the grievance procedure.
He then filed a civil rights action against Sheriff’s Department employees F. Hernandez and Cody Hill pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The defendants moved for summary judgment, alleging Davis failed to exhaust administrative remedies. The magistrate judge recommended dismissal of the case.
Davis’ complaint argued that jail staff had misled him by telling him there was no second step in the grievance process. However, the complaint was not signed under penalty of perjury and thus the magistrate judge did not consider it. When Davis filed objections to the magistrate’s report and recommendation, he reasserted the same factual allegations, this time declaring them under penalty of perjury. Apparently without ...
In February 2015, just a month into his term as Pennsylvania’s Governor, Tom Wolf imposed a moratorium on capital punishment in the state, calling it “error prone, expensive and anything but infallible.” [See: PLN, Feb. 2016, p.44].
Afterwards, the Reading Eagle issued a report that pinpointed the largest problem with the state’s death penalty system: poor representation by ineffective attorneys who have histories of discipline for professional misconduct.
The system is “flawed,” said Governor Wolf. “If the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is going to take the irrevocable step of executing a human being, its capital sentencing system must be infallible.”
As noted by Slate, Pennsylvania’s criminal justice process is indeed flawed – with no law on the books requiring the recording of police interviews and no guidelines for eyewitness identification of suspects, for example. And perhaps most troubling, Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that does not contribute funding to indigent defense, instead leaving such matters in the hands of often cash-strapped counties.
Such conditions, according to some critics, have resulted in a grave state of injustice – especially where poor defendants facing capital charges are concerned. These criticisms seem to be supported by strong ...
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) reported a 40% increase in suicides between 2008 and 2014. As of September 2015, the average number of suicide attempts in Texas prisons each month had jumped 28% from 81.7 attempts per month in 2014 to 104.5 attempts per month during the first eight months of 2015.
Nearly one-third of the 134 TDCJ prisoner suicides from January 2011 to September 2015 occurred in administrative segregation (ad seg) units, yet prisoners in ad seg account for only 4% of the overall state prison population.
Most of the attempted and completed suicides happened in the TDCJ’s largest facilities and units dedicated to the treatment of prisoners with mental health issues.
TDCJ officials responded to the surge in prisoner suicides by increasing the amount of mental health training for staff members. New guard cadets receive over 33 hours of mental health training at the TDCJ academy, while current officers receive monthly sessions. The training includes recognition of prisoners in mental health distress and procedures for dealing with them.
TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark said around 23,000 of the department’s 148,000 prisoners receive outpatient mental health treatment, while over 1,400 are in inpatient ...
Occupy Denver and other local activists have been engaged in a long-term campaign of jury nullification education outside Denver’s Second Judicial District courthouse. The activists’ attempts to exercise their First Amendment rights have resulted in repeated clashes with police and prosecutors, and more than 20 arrests.
In August 2015, Denver police seized 1,000 pamphlets advocating jury nullification from a group of demonstrators outside the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse, where Denver’s first death penalty case in almost 15 years was being argued.
The pamphlets informed potential jurors of their centuries-old right to nullify unjust or immoral laws by finding criminal defendants not guilty even if they had, in fact, broken the law. [See: PLN, June 2009, p.14].
David Lane, a Denver civil rights attorney, filed a motion in federal court on behalf of the demonstrators, calling police “jack booted thugs” and asking for the city and Denver Police Chief Robert White to be held in contempt for violating a court order affirming the protestor’s First Amendment rights.
According to Lane, police seized demonstrators’ property and the pamphlets not due to concerns about violence, but because of the message contained in the literature.
“Whether [demonstrators] are polite or not polite, whether these ...
In January 2016, in separate cases, the Texas Court of Appeals upheld the termination of two prisoners’ parental rights after they used drugs and were incarcerated multiple times while child-removal actions were pending.
Jade, a fictitious name given to a Texas state prisoner, was arrested for manufacturing and transporting cocaine on March 6, 2014. That day, her three minor children were removed from her home by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services because she had possessed or sold drugs in their presence.
Following an adversary hearing, the trial court entered orders for Jade to be assessed for drug or alcohol dependence in Phase I, then follow the assessment’s recommendations, participate in AA/NA or Celebrate Recovery at least 3 hours a week, and complete both an Intensive Outpatient Program and Supportive Outpatient Program before moving on to Phase II. Although she attempted to meet some of those requirements, Jade failed to fully comply with the orders. She also continued to use drugs and was arrested and incarcerated several times for drug use and DWI.
Meanwhile, Jade’s children had been placed with her maternal great uncle who provided a safe and appropriate living environment and expressed interest in adopting ...
Anthony Kneisser flicked a cigarette butt out of his car window on the New Jersey Turnpike and found himself jailed when he appeared in court in 2014 for the littering offense, as he couldn’t pay the $200 fine and $39 in court costs immediately. The then-20-year-old was working part-time as a line cook while in school, and his father refused to pay the fine.
Burlington Township Municipal Court Judge Dennis P. McInerney opened his court session by admonishing defendants, “If a fine is imposed in your case the fine is due today. If you’re not prepared to pay the fine, you need to make a phone call, make whatever arrangements are necessary so you’ll be in a position to pay your fine today. If you refuse to pay your fine, I will sentence you to the county jail.”
Nonetheless, Kneisser approached the bench hoping to work out a payment plan or perform community service in lieu of a fine. Judge McInerney held true to his pronouncement and sentenced Kneisser to five days in jail. His father reconsidered when he discovered his son had been incarcerated; he paid the fine and Kneisser was released.
Kneisser subsequently filed suit against McInerney ...
In a November 13, 2015 ruling, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held a district court may compel a lawyer to represent an indigent prisoner challenging prison conditions.
Mario Naranjo was incarcerated at the Reeves County Detention Center in Texas when he filed a lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, challenging conditions of confinement at the prison. The facility is owned by Reeves County but operated by GEO Group, a Florida-based private prison company. Naranjo’s suit complained of overcrowding and deficient fire safety and sanitation; the facility was the site of major riots in December 2008 and January 2009. [See: PLN, Feb. 2010, p.22].
With no legal training, Naranjo was hampered in prosecuting the suit. For example, he filed for discovery which the GEO Group defendants refused to give him, citing security concerns. Instead they sent the discovery to the district court, where it was placed under seal.
Naranjo filed a motion for appointment of counsel, which the court found “would expedite the lawsuit, promote judicial economy, and was ultimately justified under the circumstances.” However, the motion was denied with the court explaining that it could not find a qualified attorney in the area willing ...
by Lonnie Burton
On February 22, 2016, the State of Ohio and two men imprisoned for decades for a murder they did not commit agreed to a settlement totaling more than $5.9 million. A third defendant convicted in the same case separately settled his claims for $3.65 million ...
When Jeremy (Grace) Pinson was struck in the head by a white supremacist while imprisoned at FCI Terre Haute, she suffered a traumatic brain injury and was left partially blind. Retaliatory attacks followed that forced a lockdown of the facility.
Pinson sued, seeking damages for her injuries through claims that various employees of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) were deliberately indifferent to her safety and failed to place her in segregated housing. She alleged such failure to protect allowed other prisoners to assault her in violation of her Eighth Amendment rights.
As the case approached trial, a motion in limine was filed and granted that allowed Pinson, a transgender woman classified by the prison system as male, to wear feminine clothing while testifying through videoconference during the civil proceedings; however, the district court declined to rule that Pinson be allowed to wear makeup. It also held that she could be shackled, but not in view of the jury.
Although the BOP ultimately prevailed at trial in October 2016, Pinson’s able representation by attorneys with Jenner & Block, LLP resulted in a precedent-setting ruling for transgender prisoners who want to dress in conformity with their gender identity. See: Pinson v. Prieto ...
On January 21, 2016, a New Jersey appellate court upheld the State Parole Board’s requirement that sex offenders take polygraph examinations but modified how the results could be used, prohibiting evidentiary use that could result in the revocation of parole or tightening of parole conditions to reduce the parolee’s liberty.
Several sex offenders on parole who were under either parole supervision for life or community supervision for life brought a state court challenge to the State Parole Board’s administration of polygraph examinations. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. § 30:4-123.88, all such parolees are required to undergo a Post-Conviction Sex Offender Treatment (PCSOT) polygraph exam in which they are asked about the offense of conviction. If the parole officer has a “reasonable belief” the parolee is violating a condition of parole, a “maintenance” polygraph is performed to ask about the parolee’s current behavior. A sexual history polygraph is also allowed, but none had ever been requested. The trial court upheld the use of polygraphs by the parole board and the plaintiffs appealed.
The Superior Court’s Appellate Division found the use of polygraphs for therapeutic, rehabilitative and risk management purposes was permissible. However, the technical evidence (the determination of ...
Although the short stretch of I-75 that runs near Arlington Heights, Ohio is toll-free, many unwitting motorists have paid for the privilege of passing through that area. The small village of 800, referred to as a “speed trap” by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, had one of the busiest courts in the region – despite being the smallest community – as a result of aggressive ticket-writing by the Arlington Heights Police Department. According to a 2007 report, a whopping 93% of the town’s 3,596 court cases that year stemmed from traffic tickets.
To critics, such practices are a form of revenue-based policing, which often results in divisions between the police and the community they are meant to serve. Such practices came under widespread fire following civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri throughout 2014.
In March 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a report that examined contributing factors to strained community-police relations in and around Ferguson, concluding that profit motivation on the part of the police and municipal government had indeed been damaging. Those findings led to efforts to reform revenue-based policing throughout Missouri. [See: PLN, Dec. 2016, p.54].
Unfortunately for the residents of Arlington Heights, some of ...
California: For each of the last five years, members of the Golden State Warriors basketball team have visited San Quentin State Prison. Superstars Kevin Durant and Draymond Green sat among the prisoners and observed from the sidelines as members of the Warriors front office staff played a pickup game against select prisoner ballers during the September 24, 2016 visit. The pair also signed autographs and played some dominos.
California: “It was pretty much like being locked in a toilet bowl,” said Josh Snyder, one of 33 prisoners who filed separate yet identical lawsuits against Riverside County for unsanitary jail conditions that stemmed from a plumbing problem known as “ping pong toilets.” Each of the suits claims that if a toilet is flushed in one cell, those in nearby cells overflow and spill sewage onto the floor. Riverside County’s chief deputy overseeing corrections, Geoff Raya, denied the fetid conditions. “Not just the toilets, but everything from drinking fountains to showers are working as designed,” she claimed. In an August 11, 2016 article published by the Desert Sun, PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann was quoted as saying, “If you had overflowing sewage in public schools or the Legislature or ...