by Gary Hunter
Af-flu-en-za /n. <L. affluentia, see AFFLUENCE + <LL. Influens, see INFLUENCE/: an acute and infectious disease caused by greed and favoritism in the judicial system and characterized by preferential treatment and lenient sentences for wealthy offenders.
Following his testimony in the criminal prosecution of Ethan Couch, a Texas teenager who killed four people and injured two others while driving drunk, psychologist G. Dick Miller said, “I wish I hadn’t used that term. Everyone seems to have clipped onto it. We used to call these people spoiled brats.”s corruptive as cancer and more lethal than leukemia, affluenza rots the very fabric of our nation’s judicial system. Its victims number in the millions each year while courts, prosecutors and corrections officials help to fuel the festering malady. We have entered into an era that one journalist has called the “total moral surrender” of our criminal justice system, also known as the age of affluenza.
Couch was initially sentenced to probation, resulting in an eruption of public outrage. But that outrage is overshadowed by other examples where the wealthy have committed crimes and escaped serious punishment, as well as rampant, unrestrained corruption on the corporate level that likewise results in ...
by Lonnie Burton
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has been collecting data from state prisons and locals jails regarding prisoners’ deaths since the Death in Custody Reporting Act was passed in 2000. Under its new Death in Custody Reporting Program (DCRP), the DOJ has reported 100% cooperation from state Departments of Corrections and 99% cooperation from nearly 2,800 jails.
Prior to the Act there were no standardized requirements for prison and jail officials to report the cause of death (COD) for prisoners in their custody. But under the statute, state prisons and jails are required to report all deaths, as well as causes and the decedent’s characteristics, to the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). This includes information such as the prisoner’s name, date of birth, length of time in custody, legal status and crime of conviction, plus the medical treatment they received before death, pre-existing conditions, and when and where the death occurred.
According to a December 2016 report, the DCRP collected data on 3,928 prisoner deaths in state and federal prisons in 2014, which reflected a slight increase over the year before. The rate of prisoner mortality was about 14 percent higher in state facilities than in ...
by Paul Wright
One of the constants in PLN’s coverage of criminal justice issues since our inception in 1990 has been the disparate, two-tier system of justice in the United States: one system for the wealthy, privileged and politically connected, and another for the poor and unconnected.
In most ...
by Joe Watson
Arizona's Department of Corrections (ADC) imported a drug used for executions, but federal agents seized and impounded the illegal shipment at the Phoenix airport before it could be used for lethal injections.
The ADC reportedly paid $27,000 for 1,000 vials of sodium thiopental, which is typically the first of three drugs administered during lethal injections. That potent anesthetic, however, which was mailed to prison officials in July 2015, is no longer made by companies approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“[The] FDA has determined that this shipment should not be allowed to destination at this time and thus will not be requesting that [customs officials] lift its detention,” the agency wrote in an August 24, 2015 letter to ADC Director Charles L. Ryan, finding the lethal injection drugs were misbranded and unapproved.
The FDA was acting pursuant to a 2012 federal court ruling that prohibited the agency from allowing the importation of sodium thiopental into the U.S. for the purpose of executions.
After Ryan and ADC officials appealed to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), they were again rebuffed when the agency informed them in a written statement that, according to the FDA, there was no ...
by Panagioti Tsolkas
The Parnall Correctional Facility in Jackson County, Michigan doesn’t have an official gas chamber. In fact, it’s considered a low-security prison. But recent conditions at Parnall have been poisoning prisoners through prolonged exposure to sewage gas.
Last year, Kevin Blair, Sr. watched his son, also Kevin Blair, a 40-year-old Michigan prisoner, deteriorate from a mysterious malady over a period of months before a test finally revealed what was wrong: he had unsafe levels of methane in his blood.
On January 20, 2017, Blair, Jr. filed a grievance complaining about long-standing air-quality problems and “toxic gases emitted from behind [his] cell” in Parnall’s 9 Block.
Another prisoner, Christopher Harvey, had submitted a grievance a week earlier after being woken by a guard telling him that his help was needed to clean sewage out of the facility’s basement.
“He stated that I would get paid,” Harvey explained. “I said no. My reason is that I’m not qualified to clean up such vast messes of human excrement. Hazmat or Servpro needs to be called. We are living in unsafe conditions. Soon we will get sick. There is human feces in the air, and the basement is flooded with sewage.”
Prisoners held in jails in Newport News and Norfolk, Virginia were duped by a fictitious legal services company called “FamUnited,” also known as “Famm United” or “FamilyTranzitions.” The scammers behind the scheme, Teresa Gallop, 49, Jessie Davis, 20, and Delanio Vick, 31, allegedly stole prisoners’ identities along with their cellphones, wallets and identification cards, while promising legal assistance – including bonds that were never paid.
According to a federal indictment filed in the Eastern District of Virginia in November 2016, the company forged property release forms and power-of-attorney forms, which were used to drain the victims’ bank accounts and open new accounts in their names at Wells Fargo and SunTrust banks. The firm used the U.S. Postal Service to send letters to prisoners that included the “FamUnited” letterhead, contact information and blank power-of-attorney forms. According to recorded jailhouse phone calls, the company’s “paralegals” promised legal help in exchange for prisoners’ personal information and property.
On March 16, 2017, Gallop, Davis and Vick were charged in a superseding indictment with conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud, making false statements in an application to a federally insured institution and aggravated identity theft. Vick is accused of promoting the fraudulent scheme while ...
by Leah Carter, James Benedict, Madison Hogan and Paige Ferguson
On paper, Indiana has a strict cap on campaign contributions from corporations. But in practice, it’s easy for businesses to turn on the flow of money and get around the spending limits.
Contributions from executives, political action committees and subsidiary companies allow corporations to increase their impact well beyond the statutory limits.
GEO Group, Inc., the Boca Raton, Florida-based private prison firm, is a good exemplar of the issues surrounding the regulation and reporting of corporate campaign contributions in Indiana.
The company, which is the largest private prison operator in the world, has contracts to run two Indiana Department of Correction facilities (a total of more than 4,000 beds in New Castle and Plainfield) and was pushing to open an immigration detention center in Gary until the city council rejected the idea in May 2016.
GEO began contributing to top state officials, including former Governor Mitch Daniels and House Speaker Brian Bosma, in 2004. It received its first Indiana contract the following year, and as its business here grew, its campaign contributions increased as well. From 2011 to 2015 (the most recent full year of data), GEO and its various ...
by Lonnie Burton
On June 30, 2016, the Eighth Circuit affirmed a district court’s order granting qualified immunity to jail officials in a case where a prisoner was repeatedly denied pain medication during his three-day stay at a county lock-up.
Patrick Dadd was arrested in Anoka County, Minnesota on the evening of March 29, 2014 and taken to the local jail. The day before, he had undergone dental surgery where his jaw was cut open and teeth extracted. Following the surgery, Dadd was given a prescription for Vicodin, which he filled and began taking immediately.
When he was arrested and jailed, Dadd informed both the arresting officers and jail staff that he was recovering from dental surgery and was on Vicodin. The arresting officers delivered the Vicodin to jail staff, and during the booking process Dadd told Deputy Kempenich that he was in severe pain and needed his medication. But Kempenich indicated on a medical form that Dadd did not have any dental problems; he wrote “N/A” in response to whether Dadd needed to be referred to a nurse.
Over the next three days, Dadd repeatedly begged everyone he encountered to give him his medication, as he was in severe ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Thanks in large part to recent well-publicized incidents involving the National Football League, the impact of brain injuries has become a topic of interest to the general public. When highly-paid professional athletes who participate in contact sports engage in bizarre, criminal or suicidal behavior, people want to know why.
Traditionally, the American public has been less interested in the relationship between brain injuries and crimes that do not involve athletes. However, a growing body of scientific evidence linking brain trauma and criminal behavior is beginning to alter such apathy.
In 2013, Kim Gorgens, a neuropsychologist and clinical associate professor at the University of Denver, began to study possible links between brain injuries and criminal behavior. In collaboration with Judy Dettmer, clinical director of the Colorado Brain Injury Program, and Jennifer Gafford, staff psychologist for the Denver County Sheriff’s Office, Gorgens assessed 80 prisoners at the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center in Denver over a two-year period.
The findings from that study were dramatic and have led to much more in-depth research: fully 96 percent of the assessed prisoners were found to have suffered moderate or severe brain trauma. [See: PLN, Nov. 2013, p.18].
Gorgens’ data corresponded with ...
Franklin Correctional Facility prisoner ibn Kenyatta, serving time for the 1974 attempted murder of a police officer, has long professed his innocence and refused to attend parole hearings despite being eligible since 1989. The elderly prisoner has no desire to be released. “If I wanted to get out, I’d go to the parole hearings,” Kenyatta, 71, stated. “Parole is for the guilty.”
For over 40 years Kenyatta has worked in various jobs inside New York state prisons. From 2006 to 2015, he served as a library clerk at the Franklin Correctional Facility, but his tenure ended with a new directive instituted by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) following the highly-publicized escape of Richard Matt and David Sweat from the Clinton Correctional Facility in June 2015. [See: PLN, Jan. 2017, p.26; June 2016, p.63]. Under the new policy, prisoners can no longer work in job positions beyond one year to discourage close personal relationships with civilian employees.
As a result of the policy change, Kenyatta was assigned as a porter – a physically demanding job that required him to perform janitorial duties, clean floors and shovel snow on occasion. After a short time on the job he ...
by Derek Gilna
Michael Alan Crooker, convicted of “mailing a threatening communication and possession of a toxin without registration,” received credit toward his federal prison sentence “for 2,273 days he spent imprisoned on a prior conviction for transportation of a firearm in interstate commerce by a convicted felon,” according to ...
by Derek Gilna
As public and legislative pressure builds to reduce the number of prisoners held in state and federal correctional facilities, the private prison industry has changed gears to offer rehabilitative and treatment services – a shift criticized in a February 2016 report titled “Incorrect Care: A Prison Profiteer Turns Care into Confinement.” The report, published by Grassroots Leadership, a non-profit organization, claims that this latest venture is part of the “treatment industrial complex” – a nod to the confluence of political, social and business interests known as the prison industrial complex.
As an increasing number of states have taken modest steps to rein in mass incarceration, the nation’s prison population leveled off in 2010 and has declined very slightly in recent years. As a result, private prison companies such as CoreCivic (formerly CCA) and the GEO Group have begun diversifying their business practices, including expanding into such areas as community corrections, reentry facilities and GPS monitoring for people on community supervision.
For example, CoreCivic has acquired Correctional Alternatives, Inc., Correctional Management, Inc. and Avalon Correctional Services – all community corrections providers, while in February 2017 the GEO Group announced its purchase of Community Education Centers (CEC), which operates ...
by Derek Gilna
Last year, Disability Rights Washington's AVID (Amplifying Voices of Inmates with Disabilities) Prison Project published a report titled “Making Hard Time Harder: Programmatic Accommodations for Inmates with Disabilities Under the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
The report, released on June 22, 2016, detailed many of the significant challenges faced by disabled prisoners. As noted by AVID, “People with disabilities in state and federal prison are generally protected by Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the [Rehabilitation] Act.” The ADA (42 U.S.C. § 12131) applies to prisoners in state facilities, while § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (29 U.S.C. § 794(a)) applies to both federal and state prisons.
The needs of disabled prisoners are becoming increasingly significant, AVID notes, because many in the aging U.S. prison population are suffering some form of disability and there has been “a rise in the number of people with mental illness and developmental and cognitive disabilities.”
According to U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) statistics, there are 1,561,500 state and federal prisoners in the U.S., of whom 31% have some form of disability.
Statistics also show that disabled prisoners serve, on average, fifteen additional months compared to those with no ...
by Derek Gilna
Faced with the censorship of its monthly publication and other correspondence by a jail in Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma, Prison Legal News, a project of the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), filed suit in federal district court in September 2015. Following 16 months of litigation, the Pottawatomie ...
When Air Force veteran Stacy Venable arrived at the Maine State Prison on February 11, 2017 to visit her nephew as she had several times a year for the past seven years, she was ushered through a metal detector as usual. This visit was different, however. Venable’s bra, which did not have an underwire, nevertheless activated the screening device.
When that had occurred in the past, she was patted down and allowed to continue with her visit. Instead, Venable, 54, was told she would have to remove her undergarment in the bathroom before she could enter the facility. She refused.
“There’s a line I don’t cross, it’s called integrity,” she said. “I’m not taking my bra off to go into an all-male prison.”
The same thing happened to Alice Gagne, 47, when she went to visit her son in late February 2017. In the past, she’d informed guards that she was wearing an underwire bra and received a pat down. She was informed that pat down searches were no longer an option, and the only way to proceed was to put her bra in a locker while she visited. The bra-removal policy was also applied to underage female visitors.
by Derek Gilna
A January 2017 report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) examined the effects of solitary confinement on prisoners with physical disabilities, based upon interviews with disabled prisoners who were “locked in cages the size of a regular parking space.” The report described some of the challenges “faced by people with disabilities in correctional settings, such as lack of access to proper medical and mental health care, as well as rehabilitative therapy, programming, visitation, and other necessities.”
In addition to interviews with current and former prisoners, the ACLU consulted with attorneys, disability rights advocates, a service provider that works in the corrections system, current and former correctional staff, and public records obtained from state Departments of Corrections. Ten jurisdictions provided information, though many states had no methodology for collecting data on disabled prisoners housed in solitary.
According to the report, “for prisoners with physical disabilities, solitary confinement imposes additional harms” that prevent them from receiving the “regular physical therapy, exercise, and access to proper prescription medications to maintain a healthy existence.” As a result, disabled prisoners suffer muscle deterioration as well as mental suffering caused by being isolated from other people for up to 22 hours a ...
by Matt Clarke
If you were on trial for your life, you would want the best possible lawyer. That would exclude Houston, Texas attorney Jerry Guerinot, 71, who has a great deal of experience but a very poor track record. Guerinot lost all 34 capital cases he defended at trial, and in August 2016 announced he was no longer taking such cases.
Not all of Guerinot’s clients who faced capital punishment reside on death row. Thirteen received life sentences in plea bargains or jury verdicts. Two had their death sentences commuted to life after the U.S. Supreme Court held that defendants who were younger than 18 at the time of the offense could not be sentenced to death. One is awaiting retrial. Ten have already been executed.
“People who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty,” observed Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Guerinot’s dismal record in death penalty cases reflected a failure to “conduct even rudimentary investigations,” according to an article in the New York Times titled “A Lawyer Known Best for Losing Capital Cases.”
“He doesn’t even pick the low-hanging fruit which is hitting him in the head as he walks under the tree,” ...
Gus Bethea "never imagined [he'd] be a college graduate.” The 33-year-old overcame the challenges of in-prison education, such as outdated textbooks and lack of Internet access, to complete a college degree program while serving time on a robbery conviction. “We just appreciate it so much more because we’ve had everything taken away,” he said.
According to the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, between September 2014 and August 2015, 72 prisoners graduated with associate degrees, 46 earned bachelor’s and 11 received master’s. About 3% of roughly 52,000 prisoners in New York’s prison system participated in college courses during the same time period.
A study compared the recidivism rate of state prisoners with college degrees to that of the general prison population. Only 2% of the college-educated cohort returned to prison for new felony convictions, as opposed to 9% of general population prisoners. Those who returned to prison within a three-year period for other reasons (parole violations, for example) totaled 13% of the college program participants versus 42% of general population prisoners.
On June 14, 2016, the Manhattan district attorney’s office announced that it had reached an agreement with New York officials to allocate $7.5 million in bank ...
by Joe Watson
Bail reform did not happen soon enough to save the life of Walter Scott, a forklift operator whose fatal shooting by a police officer intensified a national debate not only on the use of excessive force by the police but also on the unnecessary jailing of nonviolent, non-serious offenders.
In April 2015, Scott was pulled over – purportedly for a broken tail light – by police officer Michael T. Slager in North Charleston, South Carolina. Scott, a father of four, was aware that he was behind on child support by more than $18,000.
“He had trouble keeping up with the payments, that’s all,” said Walter’s older brother, Rodney Scott. “He knew he would go to jail.” [See: PLN, Sept. 2016, p.1].
More importantly, Walter Scott would have likely stayed behind bars, unable to bail himself out, just like hundreds of thousands of other people jailed in the U.S. each year. Having been arrested three times since 2008, Scott feared the upheaval that even a short stint in jail can create: the potential loss of his job, as well as separation from his family.
So after he was pulled over, an unarmed and desperate Walter Scott bolted ...
by Lonnie Burton
As of January 2016, Marion County, Indiana Sheriff John Layton had a banner hanging above the entrance to the county jail that read “Top 1% of Sheriff’s Offices in America!” But the families of more than a dozen prisoners who died at the facility since 2009 would likely disagree with that designation.
“We all know there are serious problems at the Marion County Jail,” said attorney Eric Pavlack, who is representing several families in wrongful death suits. He described one egregious case in which “multiple guards walked by a young man’s cell while he was dying and did nothing about it for hours.”
That young man was Marshal Carman. The 29-year-old was booked into the Marion County Jail in September 2014 after trying to steal a computer from Wal-Mart as a birthday present for his son. Carman died of a heart attack in his cell in the early morning. According to a lawsuit filed by Carman’s mother, he lay on the floor naked for hours without moving as uninterested guards repeatedly walked by.
Jail employees finally found Carman’s comatose body, but instead of seeking medical care they merely picked him up and put him on a cot ...
Prisoners Damon Fitzgerald, 39, and Michael Galindo, 31, died in Nebraska’s second deadly prison riot in two years. Officials at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution offered few details about the deaths, but said the March 2, 2017 disturbance involved about 40 prisoners in a 128-man unit.
In addition to the fatalities, other injuries were reported after protesting prisoners revolted against staff members and started a fire in a courtyard. The facility was placed on lockdown for several hours after the prisoners refused to return to their cells. An investigation found they were trying to air grievances about disrespect from inexperienced staff and what they viewed as perks given to certain prisoners and not others. No prison employees were injured.
The incident occurred in the same housing unit where prisoners Donald Peacock, 46, and Shon Collins, 46, were killed during a May 2015 riot that caused roughly $2 million in damage. [See: PLN, Dec. 2016, p.63; Sept. 2016, p.63; Dec. 2015, p.63].
Some lawmakers and prisoner advocates said the latest uprising is proof that the governor and corrections officials haven’t responded quickly enough to problems revealed by the deadly 2015 disturbance. “The horrific conditions of confinement rampant in Nebraska prisons ...
by Derek Gilna
In September 2016, Harvard Law School published a report titled “Confronting Criminal Justice Debt: A Guide for Policy Reform,” which questioned the moral justification of a criminal justice system that relies on fees extracted from mostly-indigent defendants to function.
As noted in the report, “Monetary sanctions often serve purposes that have nothing to do with advancing the values typically associated with criminal justice. Although fines are designed to act as punishment or a deterrent, fees do not advance the traditional purposes of the criminal justice system.”
Instead, criminal justice “user fees,” as distinguished from fines, are more effective at perversely preventing defendants from successfully putting their lives in order, maintaining employment and supporting their families. As indicated by a recent U.S. Department of Justice investigation into Ferguson, Missouri’s fee-based court system, the weight of criminal justice debt falls disproportionately on the poor and people of color, and perpetuates a cycle of recidivism when the fees go unpaid. [See: PLN, Dec. 2016, p.54].
The Harvard report further noted that in Ferguson, such “policing practices and routine courtroom procedures led African Americans to face higher fines, more warrants for failing to pay criminal justice debt and greater exposure ...
by Lonnie Burton
On May 20, 2016, a Kentucky Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, held that a prisoner has the right, upon request, to have video surveillance footage reviewed and considered by the hearing officer during a prison disciplinary proceeding. The ruling reversed a lower court’s order.
by Derek Gilna
In a setback for the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (NACDL), the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit declined to overturn a district court’s judgment that found the U.S. Attorney’s discovery handbook, also known as the “Blue Book,” was not subject to disclosure under the ...
by Derek Gilna
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned portions of a district court’s dismissal of a lawsuit filed by three federal prisoners – Yassin Aref, Kifah Jayyousi and Daniel McGowan – who sought damages as a result of their confinement in Communications Management Units (CMUs). The appellate ...
by Lonnie Burton
In a pair of cases, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated lawsuits filed by Illinois prisoners alleging inadequate medical care.
First, on August 25, 2016, the appellate court, sitting en banc, issued an amended decision that reversed a district court’s order granting summary judgment to two ...
by Joe Watson
Just months after New York's prison system launched a heroin overdose prevention program by training prisoners to administer naloxone – an opioid overdose antidote also known as Narcan – Maryland made it easier to obtain the medication without a prescription.
According to the Baltimore Sun, the state of Maryland adopted recommendations made by its Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force last year and invested $150,000 annually to distribute naloxone. Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, also signed an expansion of the state’s Good Samaritan law that exempts from liability paramedics, firefighters, first responders and other trained individuals who administer the antidote, which reverses the effects of an opioid overdose by helping the victim breathe on his or her own again. The expansion of the law was a response to a dramatic rise in heroin and opioid-induced deaths across the country.
The wider availability of naloxone has coincided with the implementation of overdose prevention programs in prisons and jails in New York, California and Rhode Island, among other jurisdictions.
The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) began a pilot program in February 2015 at the medium-security Queensboro Correctional Facility. [See: PLN, June 2016, p.22]. While ...
by Matt Clarke
On May 4, 2016, Colorado Springs officials signed off on a $103,000 settlement that will end the practice of municipal judges converting fine-only violations of municipal ordinances into jail time for indigent defendants.
In a longstanding practice known as “pay or serve,” Colorado Springs municipal judges would ...
by Derek Gilna
Global Tel*Link (GTL), the telecom company known for exploiting prisoners with high phone rates to maintain communication with their friends and family members, agreed on March 27, 2017 to pay $8.8 million to settle a federal lawsuit alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 ...
On July 14, 2016, the Washington Supreme Court issued a decision affirming statutory provisions that strengthen the rights of incarcerated parents when the state initiates child dependency proceedings or tries to terminate parental rights.
In 2013, the Washington legislature enacted amendments to the dependency statute, RCW 13.34.180, to expressly address the “rights of parents who are incarcerated.” In short, the law barred a court from assuming the fact of incarceration makes it impossible for prisoners to parent their children.
This case concerned a woman named Edelyn Saint-Louis, whose parental rights to her then-5-year-old son, D.L.B., were terminated after she was imprisoned on and off for 8 months due to drug and alcohol-related issues. While Saint-Louis was jailed, D.L.B. was placed in foster care and eventually put up for adoption after his mother regularly missed visitation as well as other court-ordered requirements.
The state initiated parental termination proceedings, and Saint-Louis was released shortly before the hearing. The dispute in this case centered on a phrase in the amended statute that required the court to give special consideration to the parent “if the parent is incarcerated.”
That mandatory consideration includes whether the parent has maintained “a meaningful role” in the child’s life, ...
by Derek Gilna
Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was sentenced on May 12, 2017 to three years in federal prison for lying to federal officials investigating allegations of corruption, physical abuse, bribery and misconduct in the LA County Sheriff’s Department (LASD). The sentence brought to an end a lengthy prosecution that laid bare what U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson called a “blind obedience to a corrupt culture.”
Baca, 74, was convicted by a jury after the court rejected a plea agreement that would have resulted in a six-month sentence. After his guilty plea was denied, Baca’s first trial ended in an 11-1 deadlock in favor of acquittal on obstruction charges; he was convicted at a second trial. [See: PLN, Aug. 2016, p.34; March, 2016, p.1].
“This verdict sends a clear message that no one is above the law,” said acting U.S. Attorney Sandra Brown. “He knew right from wrong and he made the decision. That decision was to commit a crime.”
A total of nine people, including Baca’s second-in-command, Paul Tanaka, were convicted and received prison sentences in connection with what the FBI termed a long-running conspiracy to conceal evidence from a grand jury reviewing allegations ...
by Lonnie Burton
On September 22, 2016, a unanimous Washington Supreme Court held that the imposition of legal financial obligations (LFOs) on indigent or disabled defendants violates state and federal law when the trial court makes no particularized finding that the defendant has a current or future ability to pay. The ruling applies to discretionary LFOs, such as court costs and attorney’s fees, but not mandatory LFOs like restitution.
The case stemmed from a Benton County district court order that required Briana Wakefield to pay $15 per month in discretionary LFOs. Wakefield was described in court records as homeless, disabled and indigent. She received only $710 a month in Social Security payments and about $170 in state food stamp assistance.
Following her convictions for several misdemeanors, Wakefield challenged the discretionary costs imposed by the judge. The superior court granted her appeal and directed the district court to enter findings of fact setting forth “the reasons which led the court to enter these orders.” The district court then entered findings which stated Wakefield had a steady SSI income as well as “other state funded benefits,” and that she had no disability that prevented her from working. It also found that her ...
by Christopher Zoukis
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held it was premature to file a request to revise conditions of supervised release 14 years before those conditions were to go into effect.
The terse per curium ruling, issued on September 6, 2016, disallowed federal prisoner Andre Williams’ request to ...
by Christopher Zoukis
In 2016, questions were raised in at least three states about the amount of taxpayer money flowing into the coffers of private, for-profit prison companies.
Take Colorado, for example. When lawmakers were considering an almost $26 billion state budget last year, they noticed it included a curious last-minute addition: $3 million for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA, now known as CoreCivic).
The Denver Post reported that the $3 million payment to CCA was drawn from money earmarked for the Department of Corrections that was set aside “in case the prison population increases faster than current forecasts.” According to Colorado budget writers, the payment was needed to keep the CCA-operated Kit Carson Correctional Center in Burlington, Colorado from closing its doors. If the prison shut down, the state would need to relocate the 400 prisoners who were housed at the facility as of April 2016.
While the Kit Carson prison has a capacity of about 1,450 beds, the fewer number of prisoners held at the facility meant it was not profitable for CCA. Yet even though the state Senate approved the $3 million payment to ensure the prison stayed open, CCA decided to close it anyway at the ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Tyrone Grayson was on parole after serving a 20-year sentence for attempted robbery and a consecutive 10-year sentence for unlawful possession of a firearm when he committed another offense. He was charged and received a new 12-year prison term, then ordered to serve the balance of his 20-year sentence by the parole board.
The problem was that when he violated his parole, the 20-year sentence for attempted robbery had already been discharged – yet that was the term the parole board had revoked. The Indiana Department of Correction later “fixed the records” to reflect that Grayson was on parole for the 10-year sentence for possession of a firearm when he violated parole.
On August 23, 2016, the Court of Appeals held that merely “fixing” the records wasn’t enough.
“Because parolees charged with violations of parole are within the protection of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, we find that Grayson was entitled to an opportunity to be heard on the allegation that he violated parole for the correct sentence,” the appellate court wrote.
The state acknowledged a mistake had been made, but argued that changing the paperwork was all that was required. Given the fact ...
by Matt Clarke
In six separate opinions, the Supreme Courts of Kansas, Ohio and Colorado ruled on issues related to sex offender registration and probation requirements.
In a trio of decisions handed down on April 22, 2016, the Supreme Court of Kansas held the 2011 amended version of the Kansas Offender Registration Act (KORA) could not be applied retroactively to increase the mandatory registration term of a defendant whose offense was committed prior to the 2011 amendment.
In 2001, Promise D. Redmond pleaded no contest to one count of indecent solicitation of a child 14- to 15-years-old. He was sentenced to life in prison, but the sentence was suspended and he was placed on parole. Under the 2001 version of the KORA he was required to register as a sex offender for ten years.
The amended 2011 KORA required sex offenders to register for 25 years. Redmond stopped registering after ten years, and the state charged him with three counts of violating the 2011 KORA. Redmond moved to dismiss the charges and argued application of the amended 2011 KORA was an unconstitutional ex post facto violation.
The trial court granted the motion and the state appealed. The Kansas Supreme Court ...
by Christopher Zoukis
On May 16, 2016, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s ruling which found a convicted sex offender did not violate the terms of his probation by refusing to participate in court-ordered treatment that included polygraph exams.
Carl Daniel Ruch argued that requiring him to participate in the treatment program would violate his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The appellate court agreed and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed, upholding Ruch’s probation violation.
“[W]e perceive no Fifth Amendment violation here,” the Court wrote. “In these circumstances, Ruch’s purported invocation of his Fifth Amendment rights was premature and amounted to a prohibited blanket assertion of the privilege.”
The problem, according to the Supreme Court, was that Ruch had not actually been asked any questions that would have required him to incriminate himself. “[W]e conclude that Ruch’s refusal to attend treatment based on his hypothetical concerns as to what might have been asked of him amounted to a blanket claim of privilege in advance of any questions being propounded, and this blanket claim was both ineffective and premature,” the Court stated.
The narrow ruling only applies to attempts to ...
by David Reutter
An increasing prison population within the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC), combined with staff shortages, created a perfect storm that spawned high levels of violence in the state’s prison system.
The TDOC has maintained that its prisons are safe. But state legislative hearings uncovered a scheme to conceal high levels of violence by misclassifying violent incidents. Also, some TDOC guard cadets were found to be affiliated with gangs, while maximum-security prisoners were reclassified for placement in general population and a new work schedule led many employees to retire or quit, exacerbating staffing problems.
Yet then-TDOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield retained the full support of Governor Bill Haslam until Schofield left office at the end of June 2016 for a lucrative position with one of the nation’s largest private prison companies.
By July 2015 the TDOC had 20,242 prisoners, putting the system at 98.5 percent of operating capacity. Under state law that should have resulted in the TDOC asking Haslam to declare an overcrowding emergency. But no request was made, even as at least three prisons – the West Tennessee State Penitentiary (WTSP), Morgan County Correctional Complex (MCCX) and South Central Correctional Facility – were at or above their ...
Alabama state prisons tallied a deadly streak of three unrelated homicides within the 10-day period between February 16 and 26, 2017. Two stabbing deaths were reported at the Elmore Correctional Facility; the third death occurred after a prisoner was beaten in his cell at the Staton Correctional Facility. The following month, too late for the prisoners who died, the state Senate passed a bill to address overcrowding and violence in Alabama prisons.
On February 16, Grant Mickens, 35, was stabbed to death at the Elmore facility by another prisoner who was charged with his murder. That same day, prisoner David Sanders, 41, was found beaten in his cell at the Staton prison; he died two days later at a local hospital. Four prisoners were named as suspects in Sanders’ death. DeMarko Quinta Carlisle, 36, died on February 26 after being stabbed multiple times in a fight at Elmore.
Alabama prisons have long been criticized for overcrowding and understaffing, and the state has experienced an increase in both prisoner-on-prisoner and prisoner-on-staff violence. [See: PLN, May 2016, p.1]. During the 2016 fiscal year, the prison system reported 2,111 violent prisoner-on-prisoner incidents, including 195 assaults involving serious injuries – an 18% increase ...
by Christopher Zoukis
On March 13, 1997, 41-year-old Dahn Clary, Jr. of Texarkana, Texas was arrested and charged with the aggravated sexual assault of his best friend’s 11-year-old son.
The boy told his father and police that Clary had fondled his genitals and performed oral sex on him several times. Clary was convicted and served 10 years in prison.
The only problem was that he was innocent.
In June 2013, the then-adult “victim” signed a sworn statement that he had made up the allegations because he was angry at Clary for spending less time with him.
“I did not understand the consequences of my actions at the time I fabricated the story,” he said.
Clary was formally exonerated in June 2016.
The National Registry of Exonerations (NRE) tracks wrongful convictions, and has tallied 2,040 cases since 1989. But 2016 saw a record number of exonerations like Clary’s; nationwide, the NRE reported 166 wrongful convictions that year. Texas continued to lead the way, with the exoneration of 58 men and women who were actually innocent. Most came from Harris County, which includes the city of Houston.
In 2014, a newspaper reporter noticed that in some Harris County drug cases the results ...
by Derek Gilna
Immigration and Customs (ICE) officials in northern California agreed to settle a three-year-old federal class-action lawsuit that focused on ICE policies which unnecessarily restricted the ability of immigration detainees to communicate with their counsel and prepare for court hearings. The November 2016 settlement required ICE to pay ...
by Christopher Zoukis
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an award of $1.00 in a case where a jury found a prison guard had used excessive force.
The plaintiff, Sammy J. Moore, an Illinois state prisoner, claimed he was struck in the head twice by guard Peter Liszewski. A ...
Private prisons cost the state of Oklahoma $92.7 million in 2015 alone, and almost $1 billion since 2004. With its prison system currently operating at 122 percent of capacity, the Oklahoma Board of Corrections (OBOC) will need even more private prison bed space, according to Joe M. Allbaugh, Director of the state’s Department of Corrections.
“Given the current prison population, I don’t see any long-term scenario where we won’t rely on private prisons,” he said.
However, an OBOC plan to spend more than $35 million over five years to lease a vacant 2,600-bed private prison raised the ire of state lawmakers, since the plan also included closing 15 regional work centers, shutting off a supply of cheap prisoner labor to local municipalities.
In May 2016, the OBOC unanimously approved leasing the North Fork Correctional Facility in Sayre, about 130 miles west of Oklahoma City. The facility is owned by Nashville, Tennessee-based CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), and will be one of the most up-to-date state-operated prisons, offering more programs like education and vocational training.
“Part of our job is to reintegrate these men back into society by giving them the programming they need to find a ...
by Christopher Zoukis
The Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Richard Roberts, 63, unexpectedly stepped down on March 16, 2016. Although the official reason for his departure was listed as an undisclosed disability, Judge Roberts’ early retirement came the same week a lawsuit was filed accusing him of sexually assaulting a minor 35 years earlier.
Attorneys for Roberts acknowledged that he had an intimate relationship with the then-16-year-old girl, but denied the rape allegations as “categorically false.”
According to the suit, which seeks $25 million in damages, Terry Elrod Mitchell, a witness in a 1981 criminal case being prosecuted by Roberts, was a vulnerable teenager with a history of sexual abuse when they met. Mitchell claims that Roberts used his access to her mental health records to deceive her, after which he drove her to a hotel, forced her into a room and then raped her.
The complaint alleges that Roberts “intimidated, coerced and manipulated Mitchell to have sexual intercourse nearly every day for several weeks.” Roberts is accused of using the threat of a mistrial in the criminal case as leverage to continue their relationship.
That prosecution launched an illustrious legal career for ...
by Matt Clarke
All law enforcement agencies, jails and prisons in Texas are required by state law to report in-custody deaths, but the raw statistics are not easily understood. That shortcoming prompted University of Texas Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis postdoctoral fellow Amanda Woog to create the Texas Justice Initiative – an electronic data set that spans the years 2005 through 2015 and contains interactive search criteria such as the name, race, age, demographics, and time and cause of death for people who died in-custody.
“We can’t have an informed conversation about who’s dying at the hands of police, or who’s dying in jails, if we don’t literally know who’s dying and how they’re dying,” said Woog. “I think this information can help us get to the bottom causes of mortality in the criminal justice system and with that lead us to solutions.”
Those are laudable goals. One of the factors that has hampered recent nationwide discussions about unjustified police shootings is a lack of statistical data concerning such incidents. The only other state with a similar compilation of death statistics is California, which has a population 50% greater than Texas but about the same number of annual ...
by Christopher Zoukis
An infectious outbreak at an immigration detention facility in Pinal County, Arizona operated by CoreCivic (formerly known as CCA) resulted in over 20 people contracting measles.
The outbreak was discovered in May 2016 when one detainee and an employee at the Eloy Detention Center tested positive for measles. Within two weeks, 16 cases of the highly-contagious disease had been confirmed. By the time it was officially over in August 2016 – 21 days after the last reported infection – 22 people had become ill.
“Measles is ... highly contagious yet vaccine-preventable,” said Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services. “It is spread through the air and through coughing, sneezing, and contact with mucous or saliva from the nose, mouth, or throat of an infected person.”
Symptoms include fever, red and watery eyes, coughing and a runny nose, but patients may also develop a rash that begins at the hairline of the head and moves down the body. The rash can appear up to 21 days after exposure, according to Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director and disease control administrator for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.
“A person with measles is considered to ...
by Derek Gilna
New Mexico District Court Judge Raymond Z. Ortiz ruled in August 2016 that Corizon Health, a for-profit medical services provider, must release its settlement agreements in lawsuits filed against the company by New Mexico prisoners.
Until last year, Corizon provided medical care at 10 state correctional facilities. ...
A lawyer in Little Rock, Arkansas was forced to file a lawsuit to gain access to his client in a criminal case.
Attorney Patrick Benca, who represented Antoine Ramon Jackson on a capital murder charge, filed the six-page suit on March 22, 2017 in Pulaski County Circuit Court, claiming the Arkansas Department of Correction (DOC) withheld his client’s whereabouts from him in violation of Jackson’s right to counsel and despite a state law, Arkansas Code 16-85-101, that makes it a crime for officials to prevent prisoners from speaking with their lawyers.
Benca claimed that on four occasions dating as far back as November 2016, prison staff had prevented him from talking to or meeting with Jackson when he was confined at the East Arkansas Regional Unit. A fifth meeting scheduled for January 5, 2017 was canceled because Jackson had not been transferred to the Washington County Jail as ordered by a court five days earlier. Benca learned on March 16, 2017 that Jackson was moved to a hospital, but prison officials refused to recognize Benca’s medical release waiver and denied a visit.
According to the complaint, “We were advised that no attorney visit could be made because we were not ...
Police had little to go on. The only witness to Bullock’s murder – her 17-year-old friend, Tyeisha Powell – described their assailant as black, about 5-feet-10 or 5-feet-11, with dark brown eyes and a slight beard, according to press reports at the time.
Investigators used that bare-bones description to create a composite of the killer, and within weeks they had a tip. The sketch matched a 23-year old homeless drug user who had recently been released from county jail. His name was Malcolm Jabbar Bryant.
Detectives presented Bryant’s mugshot to Powell, together with images of five other men, in a photo array commonly known as a “six pack” lineup. She identified the suspect as the man who attacked them. Powell would positively identify Bryant once more – this time in court, during his trial for first-degree murder.
In spite of five alibi witnesses ...
Attorney Michael Studebaker announced on February 17, 2017 that he planned to file a lawsuit on behalf of the family of Marion Herrera, a 40-year-old Ogden woman who died after 3½ days in custody at a jail in Weber County, Utah.
Herrera was a heroin addict charged with cashing a $763 forged check. She was booked into the jail on May 18, 2016 and pronounced dead four days later after being found unresponsive in a medical cell. Studebaker said the death certificate provided to the family indicated Herrera’s cause of death was “probable cardiac arrhythmia disturbance due to dehydration due to prolonged [drug] withdrawal.”
Investigative documents obtained by the Standard-Examiner said Herrera’s mother, Patsy Medina, told detectives that her daughter was in “overall poor health” from her $300-a-day drug habit. According to jail medical staff, Herrera had been placed on a liquid diet but received no withdrawal-easing medications.
Studebaker said the county had not responded to a notice of intent to sue he filed last summer, and his open records requests for investigative records had gone unanswered.
“They were negligent,” he declared. “I find it interesting they are going to ignore us.” Herrera should have received more than just a ...
by David Reutter
A Michigan prison guard has been criminally charged following an investigation into her role in a prisoner’s suicide – an investigation that also resulted in a federal lawsuit and an admission of misconduct from the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC).
Janika Edmond, 25, was serving a sentence of 17 months to 4 years at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility near Ann Arbor. Her sentence was imposed after a probation violation for failing a drug test and an assault on a jail guard following her arrest.
While in prison, Edmond experienced a marked increase in disruptive behavior, ranging from insolence to fighting and creating disturbances. She had one high-level incident between May and September 2013; 11 between September 2013 and June 2014; and 28 from June 2014 to June 2015. Her probation violation report predicted that such behavior would occur.
“She does not feel incarceration is appropriate because it just makes her more hostile and therefore, more assaultive,” the report stated.
Prison medical staff treated Edmond’s mental health issues with Zoloft and Seroquel, medications used for major depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. She repeatedly tried to harm herself and was put on suicide watch multiple times. After ...
Arizona: On January 19, 2017, Estrella Jail guard Roy Eugene Ramey III was fired by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. Ramey, who had been arrested in September 2016, was placed on administrative leave pending disposition of charges that he engaged in sexual activity with a female prisoner. He was indicted on four state felony counts of unlawful sexual contact.
Arkansas: Police responded to the scene of a single-car accident on January 21, 2017 and found Dallas County sheriff’s investigator Chance Dodson, 42, and Dallas County jail prisoner Jason Poole, 38, inside Dodson’s personal vehicle. Both were intoxicated. At the time of the incident, Dodson had “checked out” Poole from the jail for a work-release assignment. Police believe Dodson was too drunk to drive and asked Poole to drive for him; the vehicle veered into a ditch and crashed into a fence. Dodson was charged with disorderly conduct and resigned from the sheriff’s department, while Poole was charged with DUI.
Australia: A prisoner at the Port Phillip Prison in Victoria died after a balloon filled with drugs burst in his stomach. Cain Hutchinson, 21, conspired with his girlfriend to smuggle in methylamphetamine, which she transferred to him after ...