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Prison Legal News: March, 2017

Issue PDF
Volume 28, Number 3

In this issue:

  1. The Financial Firm that Cornered the Market on Jails (p 1)
  2. Escape is Latest Problem at Troubled Privately-run Texas Jail (p 9)
  3. From the Editor (p 10)
  4. Federal Court Certifies Class in Texas Prison Excessive Heat Lawsuit (p 10)
  5. Obama Sets Record for Commutations Granted, and for Those Denied (p 12)
  6. When an Old Law Makes it Hard to Fix a Troubled Jail (p 14)
  7. The Violent American Epidemic You Won’t Hear About: Why Prison Abuse Goes Unreported and Unpunished (p 16)
  8. Tragic Justice: Wrongfully Convicted Prisoners Die Shortly After Exoneration (p 18)
  9. PCI Announces 2016 Awards for Private Prison Activism, Advocacy and News Reporting (p 22)
  10. $1.5M Settlement in Oklahoma Jail Beating (p 23)
  11. Medicare Penalties Await Released Prisoners Who Apply After Age 65 (p 24)
  12. Judge Orders Missouri DOC to Disclose Names of Pharmacies that Supply Execution Drugs; Appellate Court Reverses (p 24)
  13. New York Prisoner’s $150,001 Judgment Reversed Due to Hearsay Evidence (p 26)
  14. Ban the Box Movement Spreads to More States, Municipalities (p 26)
  15. Red Light Traffic Camera CEO Sentenced for Corruption in Ohio and Illinois (p 28)
  16. Chicago Pays $4.95 Million to Family of Prisoner Who Died After Police Beating (p 28)
  17. Delaware Prisoners Demand Education, Rehabilitation (p 30)
  18. $60,000 for Nevada Prisoner Forced to Remove His Own Teeth (p 30)
  19. Federal Strikes Do Not Count as Strikes for Georgia PLRA (p 31)
  20. Michigan Prison Officials Held in Contempt for Violating Ramadan Order (p 32)
  21. Study Examines Professional License Restrictions for Ex-offenders (p 32)
  22. Georgia Prisoner Caught Sneaking into Prison Charged with Escape (p 33)
  23. Youths Still Dying in Florida Juvenile Detention Centers from Abuse, Neglect (p 34)
  24. Overcrowding in Arkansas Prisons, Jails Spurs Call for Reforms (p 36)
  25. Georgia: Dozens of Indictments for Prison Contraband Smuggling (p 38)
  26. Australia, New Zealand and UK Have Higher Proportion of Prisoners in Private Prisons (p 39)
  27. Prisoners Say They Paid a Bloody Price for a Guard’s Injury (p 40)
  28. Tenth Circuit Reverses Qualified Immunity for Prisoner’s Rape, Affirms for One Jailer (p 42)
  29. Michigan Jail Prisoner’s Family Sues over Death after Beating by Guards (p 44)
  30. Peanut Company Executives Appeal Prison Sentences in Rare Corporate Prosecution (p 44)
  31. Arkansas Judge Resigns after Sexual Favors Allegations (p 45)
  32. Philadelphia Prison Guards Face Prison Time for Contraband Smuggling (p 46)
  33. Jailers in California, Georgia Acquitted of Abusing Prisoners (p 46)
  34. Rikers Island Guard Trainers Lose Lawsuit for Failure to Repay Loan (p 47)
  35. Prisoner’s Escape from Illinois Jail Aided by Former Guard, Incompetence (p 48)
  36. Texas District Attorney and Prosecutor Accused, Cleared of Misconduct (p 48)
  37. Settlement in Baltimore Prison Conditions Class-action Suit (p 50)
  38. Despite Lack of State License, ICE Family Detention Center Continues Operating (p 50)
  39. Ohio: Garnishment from Exempt Funds in Prison Account States Mandamus Claim (p 51)
  40. Defense Attorneys Seek Access to DNA-Matching Software’s Source Code (p 52)
  41. Louisiana’s High Incarceration Rate Economically Motivated (p 54)
  42. Fifth Circuit: Staff Misleading Prisoner about Grievance Process Excuses Failure to Exhaust (p 54)
  43. Attorneys with Disciplinary Records Part of Flaw in Pennsylvania’s Death Penalty System (p 56)
  44. Prisoner Suicides and Attempts Increasing in Texas (p 57)
  45. Colorado: Demonstrators Clash with Police over Seizure of Jury Nullification Pamphlets (p 58)
  46. Texas Court of Appeals Upholds Termination of Prisoners’ Parental Rights (p 58)
  47. New Jersey: Jail Time for Unpaid Littering Fine Results in Civil Suit (p 59)
  48. Fifth Circuit Holds Court May Compel Attorney to Represent Indigent Prisoner (p 60)
  49. Ohio Pays More Than $9.6 Million to Three Men Wrongfully Convicted in 1975 Murder (p 60)
  50. Federal Transgender Prisoner Allowed to Wear Feminine Clothing at Video Trial (p 61)
  51. New Jersey Appellate Court Modifies Use of Polygraphs for Paroled Sex Offenders (p 62)
  52. Local Police Department Disbanded in Wake of Speed Trap Embezzlement Scheme (p 62)
  53. News in Brief (p 63)

The Financial Firm that Cornered the Market on Jails

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 ...

Escape is Latest Problem at Troubled Privately-run Texas Jail

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 ...

From the Editor

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 ...

Federal Court Certifies Class in Texas Prison Excessive Heat Lawsuit

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 ...

Obama Sets Record for Commutations Granted, and for Those Denied

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 ...

When an Old Law Makes it Hard to Fix a Troubled Jail

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 ...

The Violent American Epidemic You Won’t Hear About: Why Prison Abuse Goes Unreported and Unpunished

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 ...

Tragic Justice: Wrongfully Convicted Prisoners Die Shortly After Exoneration

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 ...

PCI Announces 2016 Awards for Private Prison Activism, Advocacy and News Reporting

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 ...

$1.5M Settlement in Oklahoma Jail Beating

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 ...

Medicare Penalties Await Released Prisoners Who Apply After Age 65

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 ...

Judge Orders Missouri DOC to Disclose Names of Pharmacies that Supply Execution Drugs; Appellate Court Reverses

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 ...

New York Prisoner’s $150,001 Judgment Reversed Due to Hearsay Evidence

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 ...

Ban the Box Movement Spreads to More States, Municipalities

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 ...

Red Light Traffic Camera CEO Sentenced for Corruption in Ohio and Illinois

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 ...

Chicago Pays $4.95 Million to Family of Prisoner Who Died After Police Beating

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 ...

Delaware Prisoners Demand Education, Rehabilitation

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 ...

$60,000 for Nevada Prisoner Forced to Remove His Own Teeth

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 ...

Federal Strikes Do Not Count as Strikes for Georgia PLRA

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 ...

Michigan Prison Officials Held in Contempt for Violating Ramadan Order

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 ...

Study Examines Professional License Restrictions for Ex-offenders

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 ...

Georgia Prisoner Caught Sneaking into Prison Charged with Escape

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 ...

Youths Still Dying in Florida Juvenile Detention Centers from Abuse, Neglect

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 ...

Overcrowding in Arkansas Prisons, Jails Spurs Call for Reforms

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 ...

Georgia: Dozens of Indictments for Prison Contraband Smuggling

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 ...

Australia, New Zealand and UK Have Higher Proportion of Prisoners in Private Prisons

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 ...

Prisoners Say They Paid a Bloody Price for a Guard’s Injury

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 ...

Tenth Circuit Reverses Qualified Immunity for Prisoner’s Rape, Affirms for One Jailer

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 ...

Michigan Jail Prisoner’s Family Sues over Death after Beating by Guards

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 ...

Peanut Company Executives Appeal Prison Sentences in Rare Corporate Prosecution

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 ...

Arkansas Judge Resigns after Sexual Favors Allegations

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 ...

Philadelphia Prison Guards Face Prison Time for Contraband Smuggling

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 ...

Jailers in California, Georgia Acquitted of Abusing Prisoners

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 ...

Rikers Island Guard Trainers Lose Lawsuit for Failure to Repay Loan

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 ...

Prisoner’s Escape from Illinois Jail Aided by Former Guard, Incompetence

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 ...

Texas District Attorney and Prosecutor Accused, Cleared of Misconduct

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 ...

Settlement in Baltimore Prison Conditions Class-action Suit

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 ...

Despite Lack of State License, ICE Family Detention Center Continues Operating

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 ...

Ohio: Garnishment from Exempt Funds in Prison Account States Mandamus Claim

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 ...

Defense Attorneys Seek Access to DNA-Matching Software’s Source Code

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 ...

Louisiana’s High Incarceration Rate Economically Motivated

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 ...

Fifth Circuit: Staff Misleading Prisoner about Grievance Process Excuses Failure to Exhaust

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 ...

Attorneys with Disciplinary Records Part of Flaw in Pennsylvania’s Death Penalty System

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 ...

Prisoner Suicides and Attempts Increasing in Texas

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 ...

Colorado: Demonstrators Clash with Police over Seizure of Jury Nullification Pamphlets

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 ...

Texas Court of Appeals Upholds Termination of Prisoners’ Parental Rights

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 ...

New Jersey: Jail Time for Unpaid Littering Fine Results in Civil Suit

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 ...

Fifth Circuit Holds Court May Compel Attorney to Represent Indigent Prisoner

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 ...

Ohio Pays More Than $9.6 Million to Three Men Wrongfully Convicted in 1975 Murder

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 ...

Federal Transgender Prisoner Allowed to Wear Feminine Clothing at Video Trial

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 ...

New Jersey Appellate Court Modifies Use of Polygraphs for Paroled Sex Offenders

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 ...

Local Police Department Disbanded in Wake of Speed Trap Embezzlement Scheme

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 ...

News in Brief

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 ...