John Kiriakou is a former CIA officer, former senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and former counterterrorism consultant.
He left the CIA in March 2004, later serving as a senior investigator on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and senior intelligence advisor to Committee Chairman Senator John Kerry. Kiriakou also authored a bestselling book, The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror.
In 2007 he appeared on ABC News, during which he became the first CIA officer to confirm that the agency had waterboarded detainees, which he described as “torture.” His interview revealed that waterboarding was official U.S. policy approved at the highest levels of the government.
Federal officials began investigating Kiriakou immediately after his public comments, and five years later he was charged with multiple felonies under the Espionage Act – a law designed to punish spies.
Eventually, to avoid a trial and potential 45 years in prison, Kiriakou opted to plead guilty to a single reduced charge in exchange for a 30-month sentence.
He reported to a federal facility in Loretto, Pennsylvania on February 28, 2013, where he continued to speak out in an online blog called Letters from Loretto.
by Joe Watson
The rights of transgender prisoners are in the throes of a major transition.
In August 2015, California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) made the unprecedented decision to pay for sex reassignment surgery (SRS) for Shiloh Quine, 57, a transgender woman incarcerated since 1980. Seventeen months later, in January 2017, Quine became the first U.S. prisoner to receive state-funded SRS.
The decision to pay for the surgery resolved a lawsuit filed on Quine’s behalf by the Transgender Law Center, which argued that denying the procedure would violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
A settlement in Quine’s lawsuit also resulted in California prison officials agreeing to provide toiletries and clothing specific to the preferences of transgender prisoners or those diagnosed with “gender dysphoria” – a recognized medical condition. See: Quine v. Beard, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 3:14-cv-02726-JST.
The CDCR’s original position, that SRS was not medically necessary in Quine’s case, was undermined by the department’s own expert.
“[SRS] is medically necessary to prevent Ms. Quine from suffering significant illness or disability, and to alleviate severe pain caused by her gender dysphoria,” wrote Richard Carroll, a ...
by Paul Wright
This month’s cover story, an interview with former CIA officer John Kiriakou, is part of our ongoing series of interviews with interesting people who have experience with the U.S. criminal justice system. The interview with John is around 8,000 words. A longer version, at about 17,000 words, is posted on our website at www.prisonlegalnews.org and covers much more ground – such as the CIA’s covert operations, kidnapping and torture programs, and John’s prosecution. It explores the intersections between human rights overseas and torture at home, and the federal government’s war on whistleblowers and leakers.
Prior PLN interviews have been with people as diverse as Noam Chomsky, Conrad Black, Jeff Deskovic and Danny Trejo. Each has had a unique view of the flaws and problems with our nation’s criminal justice system. I will continue conducting these interviews as part of our process of expanding what passes for dialogue in the U.S. The interview with John was done before the presidential election, and it remains to be seen if the government’s attacks on the media and whistleblowers will subside or increase.
I read about John’s case when he was convicted and sent him ...
by Derek Gilna
In a decision sure to reverberate throughout the nation’s criminal courts, in March 2017 the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the conviction of a Colorado defendant charged with sexual battery due to a juror’s racially discriminatory comments during deliberations. According to Justice Anthony Kennedy, “Racial bias implicates unique historical, constitutional, and institutional concerns.”
In a majority opinion joined by five of the eight justices currently on the Court, Justice Kennedy wrote, “An effort to address the most grave and serious statements of racial bias is not an effort to perfect the jury but to ensure that our legal system remains capable of coming ever closer to the promise of equal treatment under the law that is so central to a functioning democracy.”
Jurors are normally inoculated from having their decisions scrutinized and overturned pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b), which sets forth a broad no-impeachment policy, with only limited exceptions, to provide finality to jury verdicts.
However, many jurisdictions have recognized exceptions for juror comments that exhibit racial bias during deliberations, and three federal Courts of Appeal have held there is a constitutional exception based on evidence of racial bias.
Miguel Angel Peña-Rodriguez ...
A South Carolina federal jury awarded $50,000 to a prisoner in a civil rights action alleging a guard failed to intervene when he was attacked by other prisoners.
Lavadre D. Butler, 35, claimed that while incarcerated at the Lee Correctional Institution on June 13, 2012, he was brutally assaulted ...
by Christie Thompson and Joseph Shapiro, The Marshall Project
On February 3, 2011, corrections officers at Lewisburg federal penitentiary in rural Pennsylvania arrived outside Sebastian Richardson’s cell door. With them was a man looking agitated and rocking back and forth. He stared down at Richardson, who at 4 feet, 11 inches was nicknamed “Bam Bam.”
The man, officers told Richardson, was his new cellmate. The two would spend nearly 24 hours a day celled together in a concrete room smaller than a parking space.
Richardson, 51, didn’t know his new cellmate’s name, only that he also went by a nickname: “The Prophet.” He had a habit of screaming songs or shouting the spelling of words for hours, as though competing in his own private spelling bee. There were also rumors that he had assaulted more than 20 previous “cellies.”
“He’s Lewisburg’s weapon,” said former Lewisburg prisoner Deangelo Moore. “If he like you, he like you. But if he don’t, he’s your worst enemy.”
“Every cellie he get he always end up fighting,” said Lenelle Gray, another former Lewisburg prisoner. “He was just crazy.”
So when officers told Richardson to cuff up and ...
by Christopher Zoukis
In an odd twist in this age of prison and jail overcrowding, the Two Rivers Regional Detention Facility (TRRDF) in Hardin, Montana has had an awfully difficult time finding prisoners to fill its beds. Opened in mid-2007 as an intended economic boon for the area, the jail, which is overseen by the Two Rivers Authority (TRA), the economic development arm of the City of Hardin, has not been able to obtain enough contracts to cover interest payments on bonds used to build the $27 million facility, much less break even or generate profit. As PLN has repeatedly reported over the years, this has left city officials scrambling to locate prisoners for almost a decade. [See: PLN, Aug. 2013, p.42; March 2011, p.34; Dec. 2009, p.1].
The situation is dire for Hardin. The facility sat vacant for seven years until TRA entered into a contract with Louisiana-based Emerald Correctional Management to operate the jail in
Under Emerald, TRRDF, which has a capacity of 464 beds, housed just 250 prisoners under a contract with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Until November 1, 2015, it only housed Native American detainees.
That contract ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Video calling* is gaining a significant foothold in local jails. The technology is seen both as less costly than in-person visitation and a potential profit generator for jailers. But it can also have a detrimental impact on prisoners’ ability to communicate with their families; nevertheless, for-profit companies are rolling out video calling services as fast as they can. [See: PLN, Nov. 2014, p.48; March 2014, p.50; Sept. 2012, p.42; Jan. 2010, p.22]
Often, when a jail contracts with a video calling provider, such as Securus Technologies, all in-person visitation is banned. [See: PLN, July 2013, p.44]. For example, in Maine’s Cheshire County and York County jails, as well as the Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, in-person visits were banned after video calling services were implemented. Richard Van Winkler, superintendent of the Cheshire County jail, defended the move – which will earn his facility 20 cents of every $1 charged by Securus when prisoners’ families pay for video calls.
“When one violates the law and one has to serve time in a public institution, one of the liberties that one could lose is the opportunity to hug a loved one,” he ...
In dozens of one-on-one meetings every week, a lawyer retained by the city of Philadelphia summons parents whose children have just been jailed, pulls out his calculator and hands them more bad news: a bill for their kids’ incarceration.
Even if a child is later proved innocent, the parents still must pay a nightly rate for the detention. Bills run up to $1,000 a month, and many of the parents of Philadelphia’s roughly 730 detained children are so poor they can afford monthly installments of only $5.
The lawyer, Steven Kaplan – who according to his city contract is paid up to $316,000 a year in salary and bonuses, more than any city employee, including the mayor – is one agent of a deeply entrenched social policy that took root across the country in the 1970s and ‘80s. The guiding principle was simple: States, counties and cities believed that parents were shedding responsibility for their delinquent children and expecting the government to pick up the tab.
If parents shared the financial cost of incarceration, this thinking went, they would be more involved in keeping their children out of trouble.
“I mean ...
The Louisiana Department of Corrections (LDOC) Transitional Work Program has been having a positive effect on reducing recidivism in Louisiana, though it has not been without its faults and criticisms. A recent audit of the program called for strengthened oversight and made other recommendations.
The LDOC Transitional Work Program consists of 38 individual work release programs, roughly two-thirds of which are operated by sheriffs. The remaining third is operated by private contractors. Prisoners enrolled in the programs work for employers within local communities during the day and sleep in secured barracks at night.
The effort saves taxpayers roughly $12 million per year by recouping a portion of the prisoners’ pay. Under LDOC policy, prisoners enrolled in Transitional Work Programs pay just over 60 percent of their wages or $63.50 per day, whichever is less, to cover lodging, food and transportation. Some sheriff’s programs charge only 50 percent.
“This program actually pays for itself,” said Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office Transition Work Program Director, Captain Demitria Parker.
In fact, the program not only pays for itself, it also generates revenue for the agencies and contractors that administer it. From 2011 to 2012, the program added $500,000 to the Caddo ...
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 ...
by Derek Gilna
According to April 2016 news reports, Belgian prison authorities have instituted limited and controlled access to online services, including the Internet, at the Beveren Prison in Antwerp. The innovative system, called PrisonCloud, has caught the attention of criminal justice officials worldwide; unlike other prison communications systems, this one can be accessed by prisoners from their cells, subject to certain safeguards.
Wim Adriaenssen, deputy director of the Beveren facility, stated, “Inmates can go to a website where they can see what jobs are offered [on the outside] and they can say to themselves, ‘When I go out, I can work in construction or whatever.’ If they have a legal problem, they can get help from PrisonCloud and they can see the books they want to read. It’s a connection with the outside world. PrisonCloud has more positive sides than downside.”
What’s clear is that the system provides options to prisoners that are not generally available in most facilities, if they have the funds to pay for them. PrisonCloud offers free games and access to books and legal materials, as well as access to restricted websites, but prisoners have to pay for secure email and phone calls ...
by Matthew Clarke
The District of Columbia agreed to pay $16.65 million to settle a lawsuit brought by a former prisoner wrongfully convicted of rape and murder.
On September 16, 1982, Donald Eugene Gates, then 30, was convicted of raping and killing Catherine Schilling, whose body had been discovered ...
On February 15, 2017, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), PLN’s parent organization, condemned CoreCivic, the nation’s largest for-profit prison operator – formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America – for rejecting a shareholder resolution seeking independent audits of the company’s detention facilities.
CoreCivic’s objection to the audits was despite a report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) that found the company’s federal prisons had higher average rates of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults, sexual assaults on staff, fights and suicide attempts in comparison with other privately-operated federal prisons. [See: PLN, Oct. 2016, p.22]. Since the report was released, CoreCivic has faced multiple shareholder lawsuits.
Following the OIG report, the U.S. Department of Justice announced plans to phase out the Bureau of Prisons’ use of for-profit prisons. On August 18, 2016, then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates wrote in a memo that for-profit prisons “simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and ... they do not maintain the same level of safety and security.” [See: PLN, Sept. 2016, p.28].
The call for independent audits of CoreCivic facilities was included ...
by Derek Gilna
Nathson Fields, convicted of a 1984 double homicide in Chicago, served eighteen years in prison – including 11 on death row – before his convictions were overturned. He was released in 2003 after an exonerated former death row prisoner, Aaron Patterson, posted his $100,000 bond, then ...
In Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266 (1988), the U.S. Supreme Court held that it was unfair for courts to refuse to file prisoners’ pleadings because they were filed late if the prisoner delivered the pleading to prison officials before the filing deadline. The Court then created the “mailbox rule,” stating that documents would be accepted as being filed the day they were placed in a prison mailbox or otherwise turned over to prison officials for mailing. Since then, the mailbox rule has been incorporated into the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and a myriad of states have adopted similar policies. In 2016, Vermont finally adopted the mailbox rule, too.
Joseph Bruyette, a Vermont state prisoner, had appealed a superior court’s summary dismissal of his petition for post-conviction relief. His notice of appeal arrived at the incorrect court – the Vermont Supreme Court instead of the superior court – one day after the filing deadline. The Supreme Court treats improperly filed notices as if they were properly filed, forwarding them to the superior court and accepting the day they arrived at the Supreme Court as the filing date. However, in this case the Court dismissed the appeal ...
by Lonnie Burton
On May 20, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reinstated lawsuits filed by two federal prisoners who had sued the government and two prison contractors for failing to protect them from “valley fever,” an infectious disease, at a privately-run federal prison.
The Taft Correctional Institution is located in Kern County in central California. Although Taft is owned by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), its day-to-day operations are contracted out to a private prison company. Until 2007, Taft was run by the GEO Group, and since that time it has been operated by Management and Training Corp. (MTC). Taft was built in the San Joaquin Valley, where the soil is infested by coccidioidomycosis, commonly known as “cocci” – a fungus that when inhaled can cause a flu-like illness or pneumonia and is sometimes fatal.
In 2003, the number of prisoners at Taft infected with valley fever reached epidemic levels. The warden admitted there were “more cases of diagnosed valley fever at Taft than in all other federal prisons combined.”
In response to the outbreak, the BOP and the Centers for Disease Control initially developed a plan that included prevention protocols ...
by Matthew Clarke
On July 5, 2016, a California federal district court signed off on a consent judgment in a suit filed against Tulare County, California over censorship of Prison Legal News at the county’s jail. To settle the lawsuit, county officials agreed to change the jail’s mail rules to ...
On June 30, 2016, Prison Legal News filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Cook County, Illinois, Sheriff Thomas J. Dart and Cook County jail officials, alleging they unconstitutionally censored PLN’s monthly publication and books mailed to prisoners at the jail.
According to the complaint, the Cook County jail had a policy and practice of banning incoming newspapers and other newsprint publications. Although the newsprint ban was declared unconstitutional in Koger v. Dart, 114 F.Supp.3d 572 (N.D. Ill. 2015), the jail continued to ban PLN and the softcover books that PLN distributes (which are not newsprint).
The complaint alleged that PLN mailed at least 112 issues of its 72-page monthly publication to subscribers at the Cook County jail and none were delivered. PLN also mailed 17 copies of a softcover book on correspondence courses to prisoners at the facility, yet all were withheld. Since the ruling in Koger, the jail had reportedly allowed some publications in but continued to censor PLN’s publications.
PLN argued that such censorship violated its and other publishers’ First Amendment right to communicate with prisoners at the jail and the prisoners’ right to communicate with them. Because the jail failed to ...
by Derek Gilna
Adam Corris, incarcerated at the Gouverneur Correctional Facility in New York, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in 2015 claiming that he had been diagnosed with hepatitis C but prison staff wrongfully refused to treat him. In May 2016, New York corrections officials agreed to change their ...
Federal authorities have indicted an Arkansas judge on charges of – among other things – trading sexual favors for leniency in sentencing.
Former Cross County District Court Judge Joseph Boeckmann, Jr. was indicted in October 2016 by federal prosecutors, following investigations conducted by the FBI and the Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission (JDDC). In the face of those investigations, the judge had resigned in May 2016.
According to the indictment, Boeckmann abused his position in order to “obtain personal services, sexual contact, and the opportunity to view and to photograph in compromising positions persons who appeared before him in traffic and misdemeanor criminal cases in exchange for dismissing the cases.”
Such “compromising positions” included situations where the judge would paddle the buttocks of young men, then photograph the results. [See: PLN, July 2016, p.35].
The indictment included multiple counts of wire fraud, witness tampering and bribery, spanning a nearly 30-year period in which prosecutors said Boeckmann abused his authority as both a municipal prosecutor and judge in order to gratify his own sexual desires.
Some of the more substantial charges against Boeckmann – witness tampering and wire fraud – carry potential 20-year sentences and up to $250 ...
by Joe Watson
Not one executive or employee of General Motors Corporation (GM) will face jail time despite an admission by the company that it concealed an ignition switch defect that resulted in the deaths of at least 124 people and injured hundreds more.
“Unfortunately, it’s the same old story,” said Lance Cooper, a Georgia attorney. “If you have enough power and money, you can always buy your way out of truly being held accountable.”
While representing a GM victim in a lawsuit, Cooper discovered the company’s concealment of the defect, which caused crashes by suddenly shutting off the engines in moving vehicles, disabling the power steering and braking. Court documents eventually revealed that although GM engineers were aware of the defect as early as 2004, the company rejected a simple fix and instead opted to mislead the public and government regulators for years.
With the public disclosure of the defect and its cover-up, GM faced a public relations nightmare. Its CEO was called to testify before Congress. In September 2015, the company entered into a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for $900 million to resolve federal criminal charges.
A separate agreement reached at ...
by Derek Gilna
The Arthur Liman Public Interest Program at Yale Law School published a report in July 2016 that examined in detail the living arrangements for death row prisoners held by state Departments of Corrections.
The report noted the wide variation in how states house death row prisoners, ranging from some form of solitary confinement to much less restrictive housing. It also cited “the growing awareness of the debilitating effects of long-term isolation” on death-sentenced prisoners, which had “become the subject of discussion, controversy, and litigation.” The European Court of Human Rights has been critical of solitary confinement, and strict limitations on that practice were included in the “Mandela Rules” adopted by the United Nations in 2015. [See: PLN, Aug. 2015, p.38].
Part one of the Yale report examined not only state correctional manuals and statistics, as well as other factual data regarding death row prisoners, but also unofficial anecdotal accounts of death row procedures in more restrictive states. In part two, the authors turned to examples from North Carolina, Missouri and Colorado, “where correctional administrators enable death-sentenced prisoners to have meaningful opportunities to interact with others.”
Of the 35 states with the death penalty, 19 ...
by David M. Reutter
Faced with the death of yet another prisoner – one of 346 in 2014 alone – Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) officials have refused to release video surveillance of the prisoner’s cell, citing security concerns. The Miami Herald has sued for the video’s release.
Questions surround the circumstances of the June 2014 death of prisoner Steven Michael Zerbe, 37, at the Santa Rosa Correctional Institution – one of the state’s toughest and most punitive facilities. Zerbe, who was legally deaf and blind, told his mother and prison officials that in the eight months he was held by the FDOC he had been beaten, raped and knifed. When transported to a hospital in Pensacola six days before he died, Zerbe – who was serving a 15-year sentence for aggravated battery – was suffering from respiratory failure, acute liver failure and pneumonia.
In the nearly three years since his death, Zerbe’s mother, Bonnie Zerbe, has tried to obtain answers as to how and why he died. Medical Examiner Andrea Minyard, who initially did not want to perform an autopsy until pressured by Bonnie, concluded that Zerbe’s death was due to complications of lymphoma. Yet he was never diagnosed with ...
On January 17, 2017, Cayuga County Court Judge Mark H. Fandrich set aside the convictions of two New York state prisoners serving additional time on contraband charges.
Naythen Aubain and Donnesia Brown had both been sentenced to two to four years after pleading guilty to first-degree promoting prison contraband. Fandrich vacated their convictions after Auburn Correctional Facility guard Matthew Cornell, 33, admitted he “put a weapon on an inmate” with the intention of breaking up a prison gang. Cornell, who had worked at the facility since July 2008, was suspended without pay but not criminally charged. Two unnamed guards were placed on administrative leave for their involvement in the incident; one was suspended while the other later returned to work.
Cayuga County District Attorney Jon Budelman said several other defendants charged in cases involving Cornell would have their cases dismissed or convictions vacated. One of those cases involved Thomas Ozzborn, who spent an extra year in prison on a bogus contraband weapons charge; he filed a notice of claim on March 15, 2017 indicating that he planned to file a lawsuit.
Another Auburn prisoner, Jose Muniz, also had his conviction vacated in January 2017, while contraband charges against Tyrell Ingram ...
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a $67,000 jury verdict in a civil rights action brought by a former Rikers Island prisoner. It also remanded for further proceedings on a malicious prosecution claim that had been improperly dismissed.
While at the Rikers Island jail complex serving a misdemeanor ...
by Christopher Zoukis
An October 2016 report released by In the Public Interest (ITPI), a research and policy group that opposes the privatization of government services, details the millions of dollars spent by for-profit prison companies to influence public officials.
The report tracks political expenditures by private prison firms, including Corrections Corporation of America (CCA, now known as CoreCivic) and the GEO Group, to expand their role in the U.S. criminal justice system. The report exposes a serious flaw in the conventional belief that such companies will reduce costs, as some of the funds from taxpayer-paid private prison contracts are used for political contributions and lobbying intended to grow the for-profit prison industry and drain even more money from public coffers.
The report is organized around three distinct “avenues of influence” used by private prison firms. The first is the most obvious method by which the companies exert influence: campaign contributions. Between state, federal and local campaigns, the private prison industry spends millions of dollars each year supporting political candidates.
At the state level, the industry contributed over $2.5 million to 360 candidates for public office during the 2013 and 2014 election years. On the federal level, CCA ...
by Matthew Clarke
In April 2016, the City of Arlington, Texas agreed to pay the estate of a man who died in the municipal jail $1.25 million to settle a wrongful death suit. Two jailers were indicted for negligent homicide, two others were initially fired and one was reprimanded ...
The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the parent organization of Prison Legal News, has joined a friend-of-the-court brief in a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s practice of holding young, immigrant children in prison-like facilities for indefinite periods of time.
In an amicus brief submitted to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on March 10, 2017, HRDC called the practice of locking up undocumented children brought across the U.S. border by family members “inherently harmful to the growth, development, and physical and mental health of children and adolescents, and ... permissible only as a last resort.”
The brief was filed in connection with Flores v. United States, a lawsuit challenging the government’s practice of locking up families that try to illegally cross the border into the United States, specifically women and children. HRDC is urging the appellate court, based in California, to rule in favor of the plaintiffs and order federal officials to immediately release undocumented children from detention centers.
According to the brief, which was joined by several other organizations, “the harms caused by detention of immigration children are not theoretical or speculative. Individual children who are currently being detained, and who will be directly affected by this Court’s ...
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that prison officials were entitled to qualified immunity for refusing to surgically repair a prisoner’s umbilical hernia because it was “debatable” whether they had complied with the Eighth Amendment.
Washington state prisoner Fleet Hamby suffered a “small” and “easily reducible” umbilical hernia while working in April 2012. Medical staff told him that he could push the hernia back into his abdomen by applying manual pressure.
Two weeks later, Hamby complained of abdominal pain, tenderness and swelling. He was prescribed medication and a “rib belt” for support. By the end of 2012, Hamby had been seen at least ten times for complaints related to his hernia and was denied surgical repair at least twice. He was seen by a doctor at a different prison in March 2013, but that doctor also determined surgery was not medically necessary.
In August 2013, Hamby’s attorney requested that prison officials reconsider his need for hernia surgery. The case was presented to the prison’s Care Review Committee (CRC), which denied the request, again finding the surgery unnecessary.
In January 2014, Hamby filed a federal lawsuit seeking injunctive relief and monetary damages for deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs ...
by Lonnie Burton
Ohio Governor John Kasich believes in privatization of some government functions as both a way to save the state money and improve the services that residents receive. So in 2011 he submitted a budget plan asking the legislature for authorization to sell as many as five state prisons to for-profit companies. But following the first sale, a series of embarrassing reports revealed numerous problems under private management.
The first – and thus far only – prison to be sold, the 1,798-bed Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut, was transferred to the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA, now known as CoreCivic) in 2012. CCA paid the state almost $73 million for the facility, and in exchange received a 20-year contract to house Ohio state prisoners along with a 90% bed guarantee provision. [See: PLN, Aug. 2015, p.42].
According to Neil Larusch, a Conneaut City Councilman who toured Lake Erie shortly after it was sold, the prison’s population quickly grew by 300 prisoners, requiring double bunking. He also noted that CCA hired the bare minimum of guards, resulting in a toxic mix of violence, drugs and squalid living conditions. Some prisoners, for example, were left without running ...
On April 7, 2016, the en banc Washington Supreme Court held that sex offender registration information is not exempt from blanket disclosure through requests filed under the state’s Public Records Act (PRA).
Washington resident Donna Zink submitted several PRA requests for sex offender registration information. She first requested a copy of the Washington State Patrol (WSP) “Sex and Kidnapping Offender Database.” A second request sought email correspondence between WSP and Benton County during a specified period. Her third request was to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC), for sex offender registration forms for offenders with last names beginning with “A” and registration files for offenders with last names beginning with “B.”
WSP and WASPC stated they intended to release the records to Zink. Prior to doing so, however, WASPC notified affected Level I sex offenders that their records had been requested and were going to be released unless a court order enjoined them from doing so.
Under the Washington Community Protection Act, Level I sex offenders are deemed the least likely to reoffend.
Several Level I offenders, designated as John Does, filed two state class-action lawsuits seeking to enjoin the disclosure of their records. One ...
by Joe Watson
As a five-year drought has turned California into a tinderbox, wildfires are being fought with the help of a decades-old program that supplies cheap prison labor.
Proponents of statewide prison firefighting crews – including many prisoners themselves – say they not only save taxpayers millions of dollars annually, but also offer a sense of purpose rarely afforded to those behind bars.
“It was so physically demanding – but I have to say, it was an honor, a privilege, and a gift to be doing it,” said Jacques D’Elia, who battled wildfires for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) for nearly three years until he completed his sentence in November 2013. “And it made me understand how much good I could do and how proud of myself I could be at the end of the day, which never happened in prison.”
Of course, there are also critics who say the warm afterglow of working on the fire crews does not alter the fact that prisoners are an expendable “slave labor” force used to perform dangerous jobs.
“Pshh, this might be beyond slavery, whatever this is,” CDCR prisoner and firefighter Demetrius Barr told Buzzfeed ...
On February 15, 2017, The Guardian reported that the state of Arizona had unveiled a controversial new death penalty plan. A provision of the state’s execution protocol now invites attorneys representing death row prisoners to provide prison officials with the execution drugs pentobarbital or sodium pentothal, if they can obtain them “from a certified or licensed pharmacist, pharmacy, compound pharmacy, manufacturer, or supplier.”
The BYOED (bring your own execution drugs) policy was described by Megan McCracken as “unprecedented, wholly novel and frankly absurd.” McCracken, a lethal injection expert at the University of California Berkeley School of Law, added, “A prisoner or a prisoner’s lawyer simply cannot obtain these drugs legally, or legally transfer them to the department of corrections, so it’s hard to fathom what the Arizona department was thinking in including this nonsensical provision as part of its execution protocol.”
Dale A. Baich, an assistant federal public defender, said he was “at a loss” to explain the unusual method for supplying lethal injection drugs. “If the state wants to have the death penalty it has the duty to figure out how to do it constitutionally,” he stated. “It can’t pass that obligation on to the ...
by Joe Watson
In a September 2015 report, the ACLU of New Hampshire revealed that judges across the state were jailing impoverished defendants due to their inability to pay fines, a practice the ACLU-NH called “unconstitutional, financially unsound and cruel.”
A year-long investigation revealed that nine judges in ten circuit courts across New Hampshire were sending people to jail essentially for being poor, without appointing them counsel or a meaningful hearing to determine their ability to pay.
“The practice of jailing individuals who are too poor to pay a fine needlessly places an extra financial burden on counties by requiring them to house poor individuals who are no danger to society,” the ACLU-NH said in the report. “Beyond its illegality and cost, this practice creates additional hardships for men and women in New Hampshire who are already homeless, unemployed, or just too poor to pay.”
After receiving reports of quasi-debtors’ prisons across the state, the ACLU-NH spent the next year poring over records and court documents in each of New Hampshire’s ten counties. The organization determined, based on those records, that there were at least 289 cases in 2013 in which defendants were jailed in lieu of ...
by Joe Watson
A law firm that helped represent Arizona prisoners pro bono in a lawsuit against the state’s Department of Corrections (ADC) over substandard medical treatment is using the attorneys’ fees it was awarded to further other social justice initiatives. In related news, two years after reaching a settlement in the case, the state was still in violation of its terms, leaving many prisoners without adequate healthcare.
The law firm of Perkins Coie, LLP joined with the California-based Prison Law Office and the ACLU’s National Prison Project to represent 33,000 Arizona prisoners in a federal class-action suit, Parsons v. Ryan, that sought improved medical, mental health and dental care in the state’s prison system. The parties reached a settlement in October 2014. [See: PLN, Feb. 2016, p.56; Sept. 2012, p.34].
However, a Phoenix TV station reported that prisoners still were not receiving adequate care from Corizon, the ADC’s contracted medical provider. KPNX News 12 broadcast interviews with Dr. Todd Wilcox and Dr. Pablo Stewart, who identified a number of Arizona state prisoners requiring urgently needed healthcare to avoid imminent harm or even death.
Perkins Coie and the ACLU returned to federal district court, accusing ADC officials ...
by Christopher Zoukis
According to Bryan Cox, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), “claims of U.S. citizenship of individuals encountered by ICE officers, agents, and attorneys are immediately and carefully investigated and analyzed.” However, the United States has a long history of mistakenly deporting its own citizens; since 2003, more than 20,000 U.S. citizens have been detained or deported by immigration officials. [See: PLN, March 2013, p.40].
Consider the case of Andres Robles Gonzalez, who was deported to Mexico at age 19 despite the fact that he was an American citizen. For over three years he tried to convince authorities of his citizenship. Eventually, the evidence to support his claim was found in an unusual place: the U.S. government’s own records.
Armed with that information, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued Gonzalez a certificate of citizenship. Problem solved? Not quite. Despite acknowledging his citizenship and issuing the certificate, USCIS could not provide that evidence to Gonzalez because he had already been deported.
Jonathan Crawford, the New Orleans-based field director for USCIS, nicely summed up this Catch-22 when he told Gonzalez, “Your N-600 Application for a Certificate of Citizenship was ...
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held last year that a Certificate of Appealability is not required to appeal the denial of a motion for DNA testing pursuant to the Innocence Protection Act (IPA), though the Court affirmed the denial of the motion as untimely.
Before the appellate court was the appeal of Shane Cowley, who was convicted of various crimes in August 2000 stemming from an armed robbery and murder. His conviction was affirmed on appeal in 2001 and the denial of his habeas petition became final in 2006.
Cowley moved for DNA testing under the IPA, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3600-3600A, on June 6, 2014, but his motion was dismissed by a West Virginia federal district court as untimely. The court also denied a Certificate of Appealability (COA).
On appeal, the government argued the case was not properly before the appellate court because the district court had denied a COA and the Fourth Circuit had not issued one.
The Court of Appeals explicitly held what it had implicitly recognized in other cases: that “an appeal from the denial of an IPA motion is not subject to a COA requirement.”
“The IPA stands in stark contrast to ...
The Utah Department of Corrections (DOC) agreed to pay a former prisoner $60,000 for effectively adding 13 years to his sentence by denying him sex offender treatment due to his disabilities.
In 1996, Richard Ramirez was convicted of sexually molesting a 15-year-old boy and sentenced to five years to ...
by Derek Gilna
The Innocence Project has published a report that examines the lack of consequences for prosecutors who engage in misconduct resulting in the conviction and imprisonment of innocent defendants. The non-profit organization examined court records in Arizona, California, Texas, New York and Pennsylvania for the years 2004 to 2008.
The report, released in March 2016, identified “660 instances of prosecutorial error or misconduct,” but in 527 of those cases “judges upheld the conviction, finding that the prosecutorial lapse did not impact the fairness of the defendant’s original trial.” However, in the other 133 cases the convictions were overturned.
In only one case, the Innocence Project report said, was a prosecutor disciplined. Given such statistics, it is no wonder that prosecutors feel little or no pressure to follow the rules, such as their obligation to disclose exculpatory evidence to defense attorneys.
The sole case where a prosecutor was disciplined occurred in Brooklyn, New York – a city that has had an epidemic of wrongful convictions costing millions in settlements. That prosecutor, Claude N. Stuart, was involved in three wrongful prosecutions and his law license was suspended in 2005 due to his serial misconduct; New York’s appellate division ...
by Lonnie Burton
On June 7, 2016, a unanimous panel of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit partially reinstated a lawsuit brought by a West Virginia state prisoner who claimed prison officials had coerced him to have surgery to remove marbles from his penis.
Prior to his incarceration at the Huttonsville Correctional Center, Adrian King had marbles implanted in his penis during a body modification procedure. When he was booked into Huttonsville in March 2012, he informed the processing officer of the marbles and a tattoo he also had on his penis. The guard told King, “This isn’t a pornographic video, put [your] clothes back on.” The presence of the marbles was thus never recorded in the booking report.
Several months later, King was called to medical for an examination after another prisoner informed staff that he saw King and other prisoners implanting marbles into their penises. Upon examination, the nurse verified that King’s marbles had not been recently implanted and there was no sign of infection.
Nevertheless, King was taken to segregation and told by a deputy warden to “get comfortable,” as he would remain in isolation, and have his parole eligibility revoked, until he ...
by Lonnie Burton
With almost 7 million people under some sort of correctional supervision, including probation and parole, the United States continues to lead the world in terms of tough-on-crime policies and incarceration rates. Although there have been slight declines in the U.S. prison population since 2010, the number of people held in prisons, jails and other detention facilities remains extremely high.
A recent study by The Sentencing Project, a research organization based in Washington, D.C., entitled “The State of Sentencing 2015: Developments in Policy and Practice,” noted that punitive sentencing practices like mandatory minimums, habitual offender laws, three strikes legislation and restrictions in sentence reduction policies have resulted in a national prison and jail population of 2.2 million. Another 4.7 million people are being monitored on probation or parole.
The study found that in 2015, lawmakers in at least 30 states passed legislation that may contribute to a further decline in the nation’s prison population as well as minimize the collateral consequences of criminal convictions. Among the changes highlighted in the report:
• Three states (MD, OK and ND) passed mandatory sentencing reform, allowing trial judges to depart from mandatory minimums under certain circumstances ...
by Derek Gilna
Officials in Livingston County, Michigan have agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan, which argued that a “postcard-only” policy for mail sent to prisoners at the county jail interfered with the ACLU’s confidential communications with potential clients. As part ...
by Derek Gilna
Donald Trump was declared the winner of the 2016 presidential election early on the morning of November 9, 2016. Before that day was over, the stock prices for private prison companies GEO Group (GEO) and CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America) had significantly surged in value.
Opponents to prison privatization correctly pointed out that President-elect Trump had made no secret of his intention to start deporting “two or three million criminal aliens,” which apparently led to Wall Street’s reaction the day after he was elected, since over 60% of immigrant detainees are held in privately-operated facilities. Additionally, during his campaign Trump had made a comment in favor of private prisons, saying they seemed to “work a lot better.”
Given the inherent volatility of the stock market, it remains to be seen if these newly-inflated share values will be sustained – though the stock prices for both GEO and CoreCivic currently remain much higher than they were pre-election.
CoreCivic’s stock jumped from $14.19 per share to $20.31 per share the day after the election, and as of late March was trading at around $32 per share. GEO Group’s stock went from $23 ...
by Joe Watson
New Mexico corrections officials said “the possibilities are endless” for a dilapidated prison that has become a tourist attraction and occasional movie studio 35 years after it was the site of one of the most violent riots in U.S. history.
In February 1980, dozens of state prisoners were brutally murdered at the “Old Main” Penitentiary of New Mexico, 15 miles south of Santa Fe, after a group of convicts – reportedly “drunk on hooch and high on prescription meds” – gained access to blowtorches, hatchets and power tools left unattended by construction workers.
A day and a half later the National Guard took control of the bloody scene, where 33 prisoners were killed – many of them tortured and dismembered – and over 100 others were seriously injured or had overdosed on drugs stolen from the prison pharmacy. A dozen guards were taken hostage during the incident; some were beaten and raped.
A New Mexico attorney general’s investigation into the riot later concluded that it was caused by prison overcrowding, understaffing, poor training and a so-called “snitch game,” in which guards “would sometimes put a snitch jacket on a prisoner just because they didn’t like ...
by David M. Reutter
Despite a 2008 change in state law intended to make it easier for Pennsylvania prisoners to be granted compassionate release, it is still rare for such releases to be granted.
In 1971, shortly after turning 18, Leon Jesse James was involved in a fatal shooting and sentenced to life without parole (LWOP). Such sentences effectively impose a living death penalty. Advocates of LWOP call it justice for victims, while critics assert that life without parole sentences are overbearing and result in unnecessary punishment that imposes substantial costs on taxpayers when prisoners grow old behind bars. It costs an estimated $872,036 to incarcerate each Pennsylvania lifer over their lifetime – an average of 23.4 years.
Lawmakers revised the state’s compassionate release law, 42 Pa. C.S. § 9777, almost a decade ago as part of a broader criminal justice bill. Julie Hall, a criminologist and gerontologist at Drexel University, believes the change actually made compassionate release more difficult.
The law currently allows prisoners to be released to an outside hospital or nursing facility if their petition is granted by a judge who considers strict criteria; a prisoner must show that he or she is seriously ...
by David M. Reutter
Almost 35 years after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed “debtors’ prisons” – in which defendants are threatened with jail if they fail to pay fees and fines – courts continue to struggle to follow the ruling. The recent troubles of an Alabama judge demonstrate that ongoing struggle.
According to an October 2015 complaint filed by the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission against Circuit Court Judge Marvin Wayne Wiggins, poor defendants in his courtroom were given a stark choice: Donate blood or go to jail.
In a recording made by one defendant, Wiggins spoke from the bench about a blood drive underway outside the courthouse and added, “... if you do not have any money and you don’t want to go to jail, as an option to pay it, you can give blood today ... or the sheriff has enough handcuffs for those who do not have money.”
Of the 47 defendants who gave blood outside the courthouse that day, only six were not from Wiggins’ court.
“Judge Wiggins’ conduct regarding the incarceration of criminal defendants and his conduct in threatening to incarcerate those defendants who do not have ‘any money’ unless they gave blood were so ...
by Derek Gilna
Robert Gerald Knott, who had spent decades in the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), committed suicide after staff at the ADX Florence supermax in Colorado ignored clear signs that he was going to harm himself. Knott, who had a lengthy history of serious mental illness, had spent ...
On May 5, 2016, the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed the revocation of a prisoner’s in forma pauperis status, finding that dismissed federal court actions could not be counted as strikes under state law.
Arkansas Code Annotated (ACA) § 16-68-607 prohibits an in forma pauperis state court action by a prisoner if he or she has brought three or more previous actions that were frivolous, malicious or failed to state a claim.
Arkansas prisoner Jessie Hill requested that Richard H. Gallagher, custodian of records for the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory, disclose records from his criminal case pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Gallagher denied the request because Hill was a state prisoner.
Hill then filed a circuit court action challenging Gallagher’s decision. He also filed a petition to proceed in forma pauperis,which the trial court granted on February 15, 2013. The court reversed its order several months later, however, finding that Hill was ineligible for in forma pauperis status because he had filed three previous frivolous civil actions.
The Arkansas Supreme Court reversed, noting that Hill was not a party to one of the cases cited by the trial court. See: Hill v. State, 2015 Ark. 19 (Ark ...
by Derek Gilna
The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is arguably a failed institution, and that fact is no more obvious than in the substandard medical care it provides to the prisoners in its custody. Although the BOP’s bloated bureaucracy absorbs an ever-increasing percentage of the Department of Justice’s financial resources, it never seems to be able to deliver even a mediocre level of medical care, and has become a magnet for prisoner tort claims and federal civil rights lawsuits. For too many prisoners with serious health needs, a stint in the BOP can turn into a death sentence.
That is the inescapable conclusion one derives from a March 2016 report on the BOP’s medical system by the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG). According to the report, “recruitment of medical professionals is one of the BOP’s greatest challenges and staffing shortages limit inmate access to medical care, result in an increased need to send inmates outside the institution for medical care, and contribute to increases in medical costs.”
One could argue that such shortcomings are a direct result of the BOP’s practice of building prisons in remote or rural areas, to save money on construction costs and ...
by Derek Gilna
The Connecticut Department of Corrections (DOC) has settled a federal lawsuit filed by a state prisoner and entered into a consent decree recognizing his religion. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc (RLUIPA), provides that prisoners may practice their sincerely-held religious beliefs, and it is the government’s burden to justify restrictions on religious practices.
DOC prisoner Kevin Harris, who also refers to himself as King Young God Nazair Allah, sought recognition for his preferred faith – the Nation of God and Earth (NOGE), also known as the Five Percenters.
The DOC declined, claiming that NOGE was not a religion, citing allegedly expert opinions that NOGE was a disruptive group and an organization that posed a security risk, and confiscating Harris’ religious materials. He exhausted his administrative remedies over the DOC’s refusal to recognize NOGE as a religion, then filed a federal complaint.
According to his lawsuit, “inmate adherents of the NOGE have been unable to (1) meet, pray and study with other adherents of the NOGE in the same manner that other religions recognized by the CT DOC are permitted; (2) purchase and wear a crown, which is similar to ...
The Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) agreed to pay a female Muslim visitor $40,000 for religious discrimination and retaliation by state prison guards.
Myell Thompson, who converted to the Islamic faith, wears a traditional head covering known as a hijab. A hijab and other modest clothing are mandated by the Qur’an, and Thompson said it is important for her to wear her hijab around men who are not her immediate family members.
When she went to visit her husband at the Oregon State Penitentiary (OSP), however, a guard ordered her to remove the hijab, calling it a “scarf.” Thompson refused, arguing that it was a religious head covering, not a scarf. She asked to see a copy of the ODOC policy on religious headgear. Instead, guards gave her a one-page document with a highlighted passage that stated, “paraphernalia associated with security-threat groups or [that] create undue attention or conflict are prohibited.”
“They were lumping my hijab in with gang clothing,” said Thompson. When she complained, she was subjected to months of pervasive retaliatory discrimination and harassment by visitation room staff at OSP.
Guards required her and her children to wait long periods of time before her ...
According to a lawsuit filed on January 27, 2017, a woman incarcerated at the Warren County, Ohio jail in May 2013 was “so desperate for help she attempted to write on the cell wall, in her own blood, ‘God, please help me.’” The suit named one guard by name and another as John Doe. The jail’s health services administrator along with six nurses were also named as defendants.
Cheryl Luke (aka Cheryl Morgan) claimed the nurses had refused to administer her prescribed epilepsy medication, and that the resulting withdrawal symptoms left her in an altered state of mind. Her attorney, Jennifer L. Branch, said the defendant nurses all knew the medication withdrawal led to her client’s bizarre and abnormal behavior.
Branch further wrote that Luke was sexually assaulted by three guards in her cell while in a compromised mental state. She claimed the guards tortured her client when they shattered bones in her shoulder during the rapes, took away her clothing, used a stun gun on her more than once, shut off the water to her cell and forced her to drink from a toilet, and left her covered in her own feces and blood.
The jail’s health services ...
Prisoners constitute less than one percent of the nation’s population, yet according to statistics published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), they account for up to 6% of tuberculosis (TB) cases reported in the United States. [See: PLN, Aug. 2007, p.1].
The Indiana Department of Health, for example, found that 5 of 108 new cases of TB (4.6%) reported in the state in 2014 occurred in correctional facilities.
“Prison inmates are predominantly from poor and socioeconomically deprived sectors of society, usually where TB infections are high, and [they] often bring it with them to the prisons,” said Ken Severson, media director for the Indiana State Board of Health.
He noted that close prolonged indoor confinement, inadequate ventilation, frequent movement of prisoners, overpopulation and inadequate negative air pressure in areas used to isolate prisoners with active TB were contributing factors.
Dozens of prisoners at the Pendleton Correctional Facility filed a class-action lawsuit against the Indiana Department of Corrections in May 2015 over exposure to TB. They cited the Columbia Human Rights Review in their suit, which reported: “Outside of prison, TB does not spread that easily, but in prison, TB spreads much more easily because of overcrowding ...
Alabama: In November 2016 the Barbour County Sheriff’s Office received a faxed court order for the release of state prisoner Bobby Campbell, so of course they released him. As it turned out, however, the order was fake. “Right now we are unsure about the real source of that fax and the origin of the document,” said Alabama DOC spokesman Bob Horton. Campbell, 37, who had been sentenced to 20 years in prison, was not reported missing until January 3, 2017 – seven weeks after his erroneous release. He was captured the next day.
Arkansas: Prisoner Tramell Mackenzie Hunter, 27, said during a December 2016 court appearance that the guard he beat to death at the Miller County Detention Center was “messing with my life.” Lisa Mauldin, 47, was fatally assaulted by Hunter in the kitchen area of the jail; another guard, Damaris Allen, was transported to a Little Rock hospital to be treated for injuries he received during the attack. “I just want to apologize to everyone for what happened,” Hunter said at the end of his preliminary appearance before District Judge Wren Autrey. He faces the death penalty, as well as other charges related to ...