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Prisoner Education Guide

Prison Legal News: September, 2017

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Volume 28, Number 9

In this issue:

  1. Opening the Door (p 1)
  2. From the Editor (p 12)
  3. Re-entry Program for Federal Prisoners on Supervised Release Has Low Participation (p 13)
  4. New York Parole Board Repeatedly Held in Contempt; One Case Reversed on Appeal (p 14)
  5. Los Angeles County Jail Faces Lawsuit Over Censorship of PLN (p 14)
  6. California Damage Suit Improperly Treated as Habeas Petition (p 15)
  7. Surgeon General’s Report: Substance Abuse Continues to Grow in America (p 16)
  8. Brennan Center Asks: “How Many Americans Are Unnecessarily Incarcerated?” (p 16)
  9. Leader of Fraudulent Scheme Targeting Prisoners Convicted, Sent to Prison (p 18)
  10. Federal Judge Claims Three-year-olds Can Understand Immigration Law (p 18)
  11. Pretrial Diversion: Pay Not to Stay (in Jail) (p 20)
  12. Deaths at North Carolina Jail Due to Lack of Medical, Mental Health Care (p 20)
  13. Ohio State Criminal Convictions Threatened by Evidence Technician’s Misconduct (p 22)
  14. With General Inch in Charge, We Can Expect Further Militarization of the Prison System (p 24)
  15. Indiana Court Cannot Reduce 45-Day Filing Fee Time Limit (p 25)
  16. Iowa Supreme Court Upholds Automatic Disenfranchisement for all Felony Convictions (p 26)
  17. Stolen Credit Cards Laundered Through Global Tel*Link in Ohio Prisons (p 27)
  18. Private Prison Companies’ Plan to License “Baby Jails” Fails in Texas Legislature (p 28)
  19. No Private Prisons in King County, Washington (p 29)
  20. Federal Court Approves Landmark BOP ADX Mental Health Settlement (p 30)
  21. Exonerated Man Receives $6 Million in Malicious Prosecution Settlement (p 30)
  22. Numerous Lawsuits Filed Against Corizon Nationwide; Company Loses Contracts (p 32)
  23. FCC Chairman Called Out on Conflict of Interest Concerning Prison Phone Company (p 36)
  24. Almost 270 Die in Pre-trial Detention in Canadian Jails in Last Five Years (p 38)
  25. TN Prison Counselor Suspended for Posting Insults on Facebook (p 38)
  26. Ninth Circuit: Courtroom Deputy Entitled to Qualified, Not Absolute, Immunity (p 39)
  27. Seventh Circuit Vacates Summary Judgment in Retaliatory Discipline Case (p 40)
  28. $6.5 Million Jury Award in Oklahoma Jail Rape Lawsuit (p 40)
  29. Ninth Circuit Reinstates Wiccan Prisoner’s Consent Decree (p 42)
  30. Fifth Circuit Vacates Dismissal of Texas Grooming Policy RLUIPA Claim (p 43)
  31. HRDC/PLN Obtain Landmark Nationwide Censorship Settlement with Private Prison Company (p 44)
  32. Oregon Prison Officials Must Provide Post-release Disability Care (p 44)
  33. Missouri Prisoner’s IRA May be Seized for Incarceration Costs (p 45)
  34. Abuses at Louisiana Jail Investigated, Ten Deputies Plead Guilty (p 46)
  35. DOJ Publishes Ten-step Program for Halfway House Reforms (p 48)
  36. BJS Studies Show Number of Prisoners, Probationers Continues to Drop Slightly (p 49)
  37. HOPE and SCF Probation Programs Criticized in Study (p 50)
  38. Plastic Spoon Not a “Dangerous Weapon” Under Oregon Law (p 50)
  39. Utah Supreme Court Reverses Termination of Prisoner’s Parental Rights (p 51)
  40. Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke’s Jail Under Fire for Deaths, Civil Rights Abuses (p 52)
  41. Extensive Contraband Found During Shakedowns at Mississippi Prisons (p 53)
  42. Third Circuit Vacates Summary Judgment on SHU Strip Search Claims (p 54)
  43. Florida, South Carolina, New Jersey Latest States to Pass Mugshot Extortion Laws (p 54)
  44. Oregon Prisoner’s Conversion Claim Against Guard Reinstated (p 55)
  45. Oregon Prosecutors and Cops Bully Parole Board into Improperly Rescinding Parole; Court Orders Release (p 56)
  46. Prison Mailbox Rule Applies to Alabama Sentence Reconsideration Motions (p 57)
  47. Mississippi Closes Troubled Former Youth Prison (p 58)
  48. Denver Man, Accused of Rape Due to Mishandled DNA, Has Lawsuit Dismissed (p 58)
  49. American University Removes Statue of Imprisoned Native American Activist (p 59)
  50. Oregon Parole Board Must Define Applicable Statutory Terms (p 60)
  51. California Prison Officials Shift Responsibility for Work Injuries to Prisoners (p 60)
  52. Prisoner Rights Event Prompts Florida Prison System Lockdown (p 61)
  53. News in Brief (p 63)

Opening the Door

by Jean Casella and Aviva Stahl, Solitary Watch

What will it take to end long-term solitary confinement in America’s prisons? Colorado could be the first to find out.

For 13 of his 22 years in prison, Cero Smith spent 23 hours a day alone in a small concrete cell. Three times a day, a corrections officer would pass his meals through a slot in the solid steel cell door. A CO would also take him to exercise alone for one hour in a small recreation room at the end of the pod. Otherwise, he had no contact with other human beings.

Through a Plexiglass window in a visiting booth at the Colorado State Penitentiary (CSP) in the fall of 2015, Smith described his time in solitary. A tall African American man with tattoos covering both arms, he wears a serious expression that never cracks, and seems to choose his words carefully.

“People find activities to drown it out,” he says of the loneliness and monotony of solitary confinement. Now 38, Smith was 16 years old when he was sent to adult prison after being convicted of second-degree murder in a gang-related killing. Accused of assaulting a corrections officer, he ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

The past 40 years have seen a massive rise in the use of solitary confinement throughout the United States as a means of psychological torture to destroy people. As federal courts enjoined official means of physical torture (prisoners were being flogged in the yard of the Tennessee State Penitentiary as recently as 1974), prison officials sought ways to inflict pain that were not as physical as beatings, floggings, electrocution, etc., yet served the same purpose of enforcing conformity and control. No other country in the world, or in human history, has engaged in the infliction of solitary confinement and psychological torture on prisoners on either the scale or scope as the United States.

We have reported extensively on the widespread use of solitary confinement in American prisons over the past 27 years and how that practice increased in the 1990s as entire prisons were designed and built on the premise of torturing prisoners through prolonged solitary confinement. One of the leaders in that movement was the state of Colorado (honorable mentions also go to Wisconsin, Virginia, California and Texas), but recently Colorado has made the most progress in reducing its solitary confinement population. Whether the state will ...

Re-entry Program for Federal Prisoners on Supervised Release Has Low Participation

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania is trying to beef up its Court-Assisted Re-entry Program (CARE), which is available to federal prisoners placed on supervised release after they serve their prison term. The program’s newest effort is called the Cooperatively Arranged Re-entry Services (CARES).

CARE began in 2009 under the direction of U.S. District Court Chief Judge Yvette Kane; it is designed to help moderate- to high-risk offenders make a successful integration into society.

The program involves four “phases” that can be completed in two years. Progression through the phases is outcome driven, and highly motivated participants complete the program quicker than others. Completion can result in a one-third reduction in the term of supervised release.

Casey Carrick, a heroin addict, received a federal prison sentence after he stole a car and robbed a bank. “My attitude coming out was, anything I could do to better my life, I was going to do,” said Carrick, 35.

He enrolled in CARE, which involves meeting regularly with a federal judge, prosecutor, public defender and probation officials who help him set and meet goals, transition back into the community and avoid reoffending.

His participation led him ...

New York Parole Board Repeatedly Held in Contempt; One Case Reversed on Appeal

In May 2016, the New York Supreme Court in Dutchess County held the State Parole Board (the Board) in contempt for failing to follow a court order governing a parole review.

New York state prisoner John Mackenzie, 69, was convicted in 1975 of the murder of a police officer during a burglary. He has served 40 years of a 25-year-to-life sentence and been eligible for parole since 1999. After being denied parole in December 2014, he sought review in the Supreme Court – a trial-level court – in an Article 78 proceeding.

The court found the Board had failed to comply with the 2011 amended Executive Law §259-c(4), which “requires the parole board to focus on an applicant’s rehabilitation and future rather than giving undue weight to the crime of conviction and to the inmate’s pre-incarceration behavior.”

Specifically, it found the Board’s “determination to deny parole release was issued in the form of a conclusionary statement that the petitioner’s release would not be compatible with the welfare of society and would depreciate the seriousness of his crimes of conviction as to undermine respect for the law.” To remedy the lack of a factual record supporting the denial ...

Los Angeles County Jail Faces Lawsuit Over Censorship of PLN

On July 5, 2017, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), which publishes Prison Legal News, filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Jail alleging civil rights violations. The jail holds the largest number of pre-trial detainees in the United States, and was previously the subject of a federal investigation that resulted in the conviction of former sheriff Lee Baca and other jail officials. [See: PLN, June 2017, p.42; March 2013, p.1].

HRDC accused the Los Angeles County Jail of violating state and federal free speech and due process rights as well as violations of California’s Bane Act, which protects against law enforcement interference with constitutional rights by threat, intimidation or coercion.

The federal lawsuit claims jail officials unconstitutionally blocked delivery of PLN to prisoners in the Men’s Central Jail’s general population and in a restrictive housing unit known as “K-10.”

Rather than delivering the publication, jail staff repeatedly intercepted its delivery and returned issues with labels such as “contents unacceptable,” “unacceptable reading material” and “banned” stamped on them. Further, HRDC said the jail was denying due process by failing to provide adequate notice and a chance to appeal censorship decisions.

In addition, on at least ...

California Damage Suit Improperly Treated as Habeas Petition

The California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, reversed a lower court’s orders treating a prisoner’s damages action as a habeas corpus petition and then denying relief.

California prisoner Ernest L. Cox filed a civil suit in state court against various prison officials, alleging sexual harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and due process violations. He sought compensatory and punitive damages plus injunctive relief.

Cox sought to compel the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to develop sexual harassment training and dismiss a disciplinary violation he had received. He also sought a judicial declaration that a prison rule regarding “unlawful influence” was vague and uncertain.

Under California Government Code (CGC), section 945.4, no damages action may be brought against a public entity “until a written claim therefore has been presented to the public entity” and has been acted on and deemed denied. However, CGC section 946.6(a) allows a court to relieve a plaintiff from the requirements of section 945.4.

Cox filed a petition under § 946.6(a), seeking relief from the government claims filing requirement of CGC section 945.4. The superior court struck the civil complaint, ordered it refiled as a habeas corpus ...

Surgeon General’s Report: Substance Abuse Continues to Grow in America

by Derek Gilna

A new report from the federal government documents what many already know: that the problem of substance abuse addiction continues to expand, now affecting an estimated 20.8 million Americans. That’s more than the total number of people in the U.S. with cancer.

Prisoners at the local, state and federal levels also suffer unacceptably high levels of substance abuse, the report noted.

Published in November 2016, “Facing Addiction: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health,” is the first study from the office of the nation’s top healthcare professional to address what then-Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy called a “crisis of addiction.” Dr. Murthy left office in April 2017 after being asked to resign by the Trump administration.

Incorporating research from the Centers for Disease Control and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, the Surgeon General’s report found that only 10% of those suffering from addiction – about 2.2 million people – actually receive treatment. Yet 1 in 7 Americans, over 45 million people, will face addiction during their lifetimes.

The report added that 78 people die each day in the United States from opiod overdoses alone – a death ...

Brennan Center Asks: “How Many Americans Are Unnecessarily Incarcerated?”

by Derek Gilna

After three years of research, the highly-respected, non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law published an extensive report in December 2016 which concluded that while “mass incarceration has emerged as an urgent national issue to be addressed, the reforms currently offered are dwarfed by the scale of the problem. The country needs bolder solutions.”

The Brennan Center noted that of the 1.46 million prisoners in state and federal facilities serving time for 370 different categories of crime, “many ... are currently incarcerated without a sufficient public safety rationale ... we propose a new, alternative framework for sentencing grounded in the science of public safety and rehabilitation ... replaced with broad judicial discretion.”

In fact, the report found fully 39% of the state and federal prison population, or some 576,000 prisoners, are incarcerated for little compelling public safety reason.

In lieu of generally harsh guideline sentences, which, on the federal level, are arguably “enhanced” by judge-found facts to become even harsher, the Brennan Center “proposes a new solution, building on these past proposals. We advocate that today’s sentencing laws should change to provide default sentences that are proportional to the specific crime ...

Leader of Fraudulent Scheme Targeting Prisoners Convicted, Sent to Prison

by Christopher Zoukis

Qadir Shabazz, aka Deangelo Moore, aka Deangelo Muhammad, a 41-year-old Atlanta man, was convicted in January 2016 of charges related to a fraudulent scheme that sold false hope to prisoners and stole millions from the U.S. government.

Shabazz opened a “charity” called Indigent Inmate in 2009, and he and his employees mailed brochures and applications to thousands of prisoners around the country. Shabazz claimed he would provide free religious literature, other publications and even financial assistance to prisoners in need.

“He promised he would send reading materials,” said U.S. Postal Inspector Nathaniel Sims. “He would put them in touch with people if they needed legal aide [sic], and he also promised that he might give them a small amount of money they could put on their prisoner accounts.”

All prisoners needed to do was fill out an application which required their name, date of birth and Social Security number. Requests for this type of information are the hallmark of identity theft operations, but it wasn’t so obvious in this case.

“There are actually legitimate prison charities that do offer that kind of assistance and do include on their application forms, [requests for] names ...

Federal Judge Claims Three-year-olds Can Understand Immigration Law

by Christopher Zoukis

In a deposition taken in a federal lawsuit challenging the lack of legal representation for children in deportation hearings, a longtime immigration judge caused the Justice Department to distance itself from his claim that he had “taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds” well enough to ensure “a fair hearing.”

He repeated that claim twice, adding, “It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of patience. They get it. It’s not the most efficient, but it can be done.”

“I nearly fell off my chair when I read that deposition,” said Laurence Steinberg, a Temple University psychology expert. “Three- and 4-year-olds do not yet have logical reasoning abilities. It’s preposterous, frankly, to think they could be taught enough about immigration law to be able to represent themselves in court.”

Jack H. Weil, an assistant chief immigration judge in the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), is responsible for coordinating the Justice Department’s immigration judge training program. EOIR spokeswoman Lauren Alder Reid stressed that “at no time has the Department indicated that 3 and 4 year olds are capable of representing themselves,” adding that “Weil was speaking in a personal ...

Pretrial Diversion: Pay Not to Stay (in Jail)

by Christopher Zoukis

As government authorities come to grips with the massive and costly incarceration problem in the United States, efforts to find alternatives to expensive prison and jail sentences are underway. Pretrial diversion, an old favorite, is once again gaining popularity across the country in conjunction with bail reform efforts. [See: PLN, June 2017, p.30; May 2017, p.26].

Pretrial diversion, which has been around for decades, is intended to relieve overcrowded jails and court dockets by providing a more effective method of dealing with minor offenders. Diversion programs often include counseling, rehabilitation and job training components. Plus they offer certain criminal defendants a way to avoid being branded as felons.

In Florida, for example, some jurisdictions offer “pre-trial intervention” for people charged with most non-violent, third-degree felonies, which afford them a type of diversion typically only available to misdemeanor offenders.

When offenders enroll in a diversion program they agree to comply with certain conditions – usually including community supervision, drug testing and the payment of fees – and to refrain from further criminal behavior for a specified period of time. If successful, the original charges are dismissed and do not appear on their criminal record.

Diversion programs ...

Deaths at North Carolina Jail Due to Lack of Medical, Mental Health Care

The deaths of four pre-trial detainees at the Durham County Jail in North Carolina are under investigation. Over the past 16 years, 10 other prisoners have died at the facility. Officials are remaining mum, referring questions to the jail’s medical contractor, Correct Care Solutions, which also is not commenting.

Dennis E. McMurray, 52, died at the jail on January 10, 2015. An autopsy found his death was due to an accidental drug overdose, which officials believe he ingested prior to the time he was arrested by narcotics officers. While at the jail he was in obvious distress.

“I talked to the [Durham County] sheriff [Mike Andrews] again, and he told me that when my dad first got there, he told him he was having trouble breathing, so they took him back to the medical part of the jail and they gave him some medicine and sent him back to his cell,” said Shakiyla Young, McMurray’s daughter.

“And I guess after that is when he start[ed] calling ‘I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!’, but nobody came to see what was wrong with him.”

Another investigation was launched into the August 31, 2015 death of prisoner Raphael M ...

Ohio State Criminal Convictions Threatened by Evidence Technician’s Misconduct

by Derek Gilna

Recent court filings make it clear that G. Michele Yezzo, an evidence technician for 33 years with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), had a long history of behavioral problems that put the credibility of her findings in criminal cases in doubt.

According to the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP), the Office of the Ohio Public Defender and the Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic Center at Case Western Reserve University Law School, which together formed a task force, all of the cases that Yezzo worked on should be reviewed.

The groups worry that hundreds of Ohio state criminal convictions in cases in which Yezzo was involved may be tainted. In fact, one prisoner has already been freed after serving 23 years, and petitions for new trials in other cases have been filed citing irregularities in Yezzo’s lab work as well as her disturbing disciplinary record.

In one of those cases, attorneys for Kevin Keith, 53, filed a motion for a new trial in October 2016 in the Crawford County Court of Common Pleas. The motion alleged the evidence that led to Keith’s arrest and conviction in a 1996 triple homicide was flawed, quoting a ...

With General Inch in Charge, We Can Expect Further Militarization of the Prison System

by Brian Dolinar, Truthout

The appointment of retired Army General Mark S. Inch to head the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is a major blow to those working for prison reform under Trump. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on August 1, 2017 that Inch would be taking over the position. In the past, Inch has been responsible for detainee operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have been plagued by accusations of torture and abuse. Looking at Inch’s record, many prison activists and formerly incarcerated people expressed alarm that his appointment will likely lead to worsening conditions in the future.

This news comes just days after Trump gave a speech before police in Long Island, New York, joking that they should treat suspects “rough” and not be “too nice” to those he called “thugs” and “animals.” Throughout his campaign for president, Trump billed himself as the “law and order” candidate – rhetoric that apparently resonated with his base.

Attorney General Sessions, appointed by Trump, has expressed his own support for the war on drugs, asset forfeiture and anti-immigration policies. In his announcement, Sessions called Inch a “military policeman” who was “uniquely qualified” to head the federal prison system.

Truthout spoke ...

Indiana Court Cannot Reduce 45-Day Filing Fee Time Limit

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of an indigent prisoner’s lawsuit for failing to pay the filing fee within 30 days, when he had complied with state law by paying within 45 days.

Indiana prisoners are required to pay a partial filing fee for state court actions. If the court denies waiver of the fee, it “shall give written notice ... that the ... case will be dismissed if the partial filing fee is not paid” within 45 days of the order, “or within an additional period as the court may, upon request, allow.” IC § 33-37-3-3(d).

Indiana prisoner Charles Davis, Sr. filed a Public Records Act complaint in state court. On March 2, 2016, the trial court denied a waiver of Davis’ filing fee and ordered him to “pay filing fees in the sum of $17.18 within 30 days.”

The court then dismissed Davis’ suit on April 5, 2016 because he had not yet paid the filing fee. The court received Davis’ $17.18 check on April 11, 2016 – 40 days after its March order – but returned it because the case had already been dismissed.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, noting that ...

Iowa Supreme Court Upholds Automatic Disenfranchisement for all Felony Convictions

by Matt Clarke

In a June 30, 2016 opinion, the Iowa Supreme Court held that all felonies were “infamous crimes” under the voter disqualification provision of the state’s constitution.

Kelli Jo Griffin was convicted of the class C felony of delivery of 100 grams or less of cocaine in 2008. At that time, Executive Order 42, which had been signed by then-Governor Thomas J. Vilsack, was in effect. The order restored the voting rights of persons who were convicted of a felony but had completely discharged their criminal sentence, including any terms of probation, parole or post-release supervision. Griffin’s attorney told her that she would have her right to vote automatically reinstated when she completed parole.

In 2011, then-Governor Terry E. Branstad signed Executive Order 70, which rescinded Executive Order 42. Unaware of that development, Griffin registered to vote and then voted after she completed her parole term in 2013. She was charged with perjury for registering and voting, but acquitted by a jury.

Griffin filed a petition in state court for a declaration that her offense did not disqualify her from voting and that state voter registration laws which exclude felons who have not had their rights restored violate ...

Stolen Credit Cards Laundered Through Global Tel*Link in Ohio Prisons

by Christopher Zoukis

The Ohio State Highway Patrol, which investigates all manner of crimes in Ohio, launched an investigation in November 2016 into the use of stolen credit card numbers to fund commissary accounts in the state prison system.

Three prisoners and a woman who lives in Cincinnati may be behind the scheme. According to court documents, over a period of more than a year, multiple deposits of $200 were made to 46 prisoner accounts in 14 facilities, all using stolen credit card numbers. The deposits totaled $380,786.36, and over $123,800 of that money was sent back out of the accounts via institutional checks from the prisons.

Some of the fraudulent deposits were reportedly processed through Global Tel*Link, a company that provides prison phone services and other ancillary services.

According to a warrant used to obtain email address information from Google related to the investigation, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction was not enforcing deposit limits during the timeframe, which allowed the money laundering scheme to operate.

“The fraud allegedly works with [sic] one inmate gives another $100 and receives $200 back on his commissary account via stolen credit card numbers,” the warrant stated ...

Private Prison Companies’ Plan to License “Baby Jails” Fails in Texas Legislature

by Bob Libal

Legislation developed by private prison corporation GEO Group that would have licensed immigrant family detention centers as “child care facilities” failed in the Texas legislature in May 2017 following widespread opposition by child welfare, medical and immigrant rights organizations.

Companion bills filed in the Texas House (HB 2225) and Senate (SB 1018) would have granted state officials the authority to issue licenses for immigrant family detention centers under lowered standards. The two family detention facilities in Texas, derisively known as “baby jails,” have been at the center of scandals involving medical neglect, sexual abuse, a ban on crayons for children in visitation areas, and multiple hunger strikes by detainees.

“The Texas legislature did the right thing,” said Dr. Laura Guerra-Cardus of Children’s Defense Fund-Texas. “Now it’s time for the Department of Homeland Security to follow the advice of their own advisory committee and discontinue detention [of children] as a matter of DHS policy.”

For-profit prison companies run both immigrant family detention centers in Texas. GEO Group operates the Karnes County Family Residential Center in Karnes City, while CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, runs the South Texas Residential Center in Dilley, which ...

No Private Prisons in King County, Washington

On August 14, 2017, the King County Council in Washington State voted 8-1 to pass an ordinance prohibiting the county from contracting with private prison companies. The county does not currently use for-profit prisons and has contingency arrangements with other counties should additional jail beds be required.

Councilmember Dave Upthegrove introduced Ordinance No. 18560 in November 2016, to codify King County’s longstanding practice of not using private prisons. Washington State law is silent on that issue, and while a decades-old opinion by then-State Attorney General Christine Gregoire says cities cannot contract with private prisons, Councilmember Upthegrove introduced the ordinance out of concern that state law could change or another Attorney General might issue a different opinion. He said his intent was to “set the example here.”

Human Rights Defense Center campaign director Carrie Wilkinson presented testimony regarding the private prison industry, specifically related to problems created by the for-profit business model and the industry’s need to maintain and increasethe number of prisoners in order to stay profitable. Prison Legal News has reported on abusive conditions and other problems inherent within for-profit prisons for over two decades.

Wilkinson testified that in general, private prisons employ fewer staff, pay them less ...

Federal Court Approves Landmark BOP ADX Mental Health Settlement

by Derek Gilna

Following a two-day hearing, Colorado federal district court judge Richard P. Matsch approved a landmark settlement in December 2016 that ended a five-year class-action lawsuit over the horrendous mistreatment of mentally ill prisoners. As a result of the settlement, federal prison officials agreed to sweeping changes in ...

Exonerated Man Receives $6 Million in Malicious Prosecution Settlement

by Christopher Zoukis

Derrick Deacon spent more than 24 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. After having his conviction thrown out by an appeals court and being found not guilty in a subsequent retrial, Deacon, 61, sued the City of New York for malicious prosecution.

 On November 1, 2016, the New York Daily News reported that he had accepted $6 million to settle his claims.

Deacon was charged with and convicted of the April 1, 1989 shooting death of 16-year-old Anthony Wynn in a Brooklyn apartment hallway. The conviction was obtained on the basis of an eyewitness, Abdullah Pickering, who fingered Deacon – reportedly a drug user – in order to collect $1,000 from a Crime Stoppers hotline. Deacon insisted that he was not near the scene of the crime and proclaimed his innocence. He was convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life.

The case began to unravel in 2001, when a federal informant, Trevor Brown, told the FBI that minutes after Wynn was murdered, a gang member named Pablo confessed the crime to him. According to Brown, Wynn was killed by Pablo during a botched robbery attempt.

It took eight years, but in ...

Numerous Lawsuits Filed Against Corizon Nationwide; Company Loses Contracts

by Matt Clarke

Corizon Health is one of the nation's largest for-profit medical providers for prisons and jails. Recent lawsuits against the company, however, call into question the quality, and even the availability, of the healthcare services it is supposed to provide. Further, a former New Mexico prison employee has filed a whistleblower suit claiming she was fired in retaliation for raising concerns about Corizon’s provision of medical care to prisoners in that state.

In April 2017, the former behavioral health chief for the New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD) filed a lawsuit after she was placed on administrative leave and then terminated in November 2015. Dr. Bianca McDermott claimed she was fired for “various whistleblower activities” related to the NMCD’s contract with Corizon.

McDermott said she began raising concerns with her supervisors about the company’s contract in 2009. “Dr. McDermott was personally aware that Corizon was not providing all mental health care required under the contract, which meant that some portion of the [$200 million] NMCD paid to Corizon had not been earned,” according to her complaint.

She filed a qui tam action, which allows a private party to sue for fraud against the government, and made several public records requests. The state ...

FCC Chairman Called Out on Conflict of Interest Concerning Prison Phone Company

by Carrie Wilkinson

The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) submitted a formal comment on three Federal Communications Commission dockets on August 9, 2017, accusing FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who formerly represented prison telecom giant Securus Technologies, Inc., of having a conflict of interest. In its filings, HRDC noted that “not only does Mr. Pai’s conduct give the appearance of a conflict of interest, there appears to be an actual conflict.”

In a 2011 questionnaire submitted by Pai to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation prior to his initial nomination hearing to become an FCC Commissioner, he stated that as an attorney he had performed legal work for Securus and described the company as one of his clients when he worked for the law firm of Jenner & Block. Pai was confirmed by the Committee and joined the FCC as a Commissioner in May 2012.

Since then, Pai has vigorously and consistently taken action to undercut all efforts to impose federal regulations, including rate caps, on the Inmate Calling Services (ICS) industry, which benefits Securus – his former client – as well as other ICS providers. The lack of federal regulation guarantees Securus the ability to ...

Almost 270 Die in Pre-trial Detention in Canadian Jails in Last Five Years

by Derek Gilna

According to data gathered by the Reuters news agency, which culled records from various Canadian provincial governments, almost 270 prisoners awaiting trial have died over the past five years. Apparently pretrial bail practices in our northern neighbor are in serious need of reform, according to prisoners’ rights advocates.

“Canadians are dying in prisons here in Canada on a regular basis and it gets very little attention,” said attorney Kevin Egan, who represents prisoners in a lawsuit against Ontario’s provincial prisons. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s justice minister directed requests for comment to the provincial governments that supervise the facilities.

As in the U.S., Canadian prisoners who have not yet been convicted are presumed innocent. Such individuals comprise approximately 59 percent of all provincial prisoners, whereas in the United States, pretrial detainees represent only 20 percent of the total prisoner population, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

The reason for this disparity is clear: Canadian Crown prosecutors have become so risk-adverse that they routinely oppose bail requests, fearing that prisoners might commit more crimes while on pretrial release. As Rick Woodburn, president of the Canadian Association of Crown Counsel, noted, “Each time a Crown attorney releases somebody ...

TN Prison Counselor Suspended for Posting Insults on Facebook

by Joe Watson

A counselor at the Turney Center Industrial Complex (TCIX), a close-security prison located in southwestern Tennessee, was suspended for three days after she posted profanity-laced insults on the Facebook page for the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) in April 2017, in the wake of an assault on three guards.

TCIX Warden Kevin Genovese suspended Luann Courtright Dickson without pay the following month after learning she had referred to a prisoner’s family member as “a stupid bitch” and a “fucked up idiot,” and prisoners at TCIX as “bastards.” Screenshots of those comments were obtained by PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann, who then lodged a formal complaint with the TDOC.

“Ms. Dickson was apparently unaware that the [Facebook] page is not only available for TDOC employees and their supporters, but to all members of the public – including family members whose loved ones are incarcerated (‘inmate lovers,’ as she called them),” Friedmann wrote in his complaint letter. “Beyond the fact that Ms. Dickson exercised extremely poor judgment in posting her comments on the TDOC’s Facebook page – regardless of the circumstances, which involved serious assaults on staff members at TCIX that day – her remarks ...

Ninth Circuit: Courtroom Deputy Entitled to Qualified, Not Absolute, Immunity

The Ninth Circuit has held that a courtroom deputy was not entitled to absolute immunity for shoving a bail enforcement agent from a courtroom. The appellate court also found, however, that the deputy was entitled to qualified immunity.

Nevada bail enforcement agent Adam Brooks owns Las Vegas Fugitive Recovery. Brooks and fellow enforcement agents John Kevin Smith and Matthew Penny intended to arrest Malena Reed and Mary Beth Lourcey during their preliminary hearing before the Regional Justice Court of Las Vegas.

The women were on bail on charges of conspiracy to make a bomb threat, but failed to keep their bail bond company, AIA Surety, apprised of their location. The enforcement agents believed they were authorized to detain the women for AIA.

Justice of the Peace Deborah Lippis refused to allow the agents to arrest the women. “These ladies aren’t fugitives,” Lippis told Smith. She then ordered that they “are not to be taken into custody” unless AIA filed a proper motion with the district court.

Smith ignored Judge Lippis’ order and told the women they could not leave until he spoke with his superiors. “No,” said Lippis, directing courtroom deputy marshal Jim Keener to “go out there ...

Seventh Circuit Vacates Summary Judgment in Retaliatory Discipline Case

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment for the defendants on a prisoner’s retaliatory discipline claim, finding the district court erred in failing to compel prison officials to produce a security video which would have been dispositive evidence.

Illinois state prisoner Kenneth Ogurek was charged with a disciplinary infraction for fighting with another prisoner. He told prison security investigator Jeffrey Gabor that the other prisoner started the fight and he wanted to charge him with assault. He also claimed that items had been stolen from his cell while he was in segregation due to the fight. He wanted Gabor to investigate the fight and theft.

After waiting ten days for Gabor to respond, Ogurek complained to the warden. The warden forwarded the complaint to Gabor, who berated Ogurek for contacting the warden.

Gabor told Ogurek that the video footage revealed Ogurek had started the fight. When Ogurek denied that allegation, Gabor issued him a misconduct report for impeding an investigation. Ogurek was found guilty and sanctioned with six months in segregation.

The disciplinary infraction was expunged on administrative appeal, however, because Gabor had violated both the procedure for issuing disciplinary reports and failed to substantiate his charge against ...

$6.5 Million Jury Award in Oklahoma Jail Rape Lawsuit

by Matt Clarke

A federal jury awarded an Oklahoma woman $6.5 million after she was sexually assaulted by a Hollis, Oklahoma assistant police chief while held at the Harmon County jail.

Tiffany Ann Glover, 33, filed a federal civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ...

Ninth Circuit Reinstates Wiccan Prisoner’s Consent Decree

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has sharply criticized a district court’s handling of a Wiccan prisoner’s lawsuit, and reinstated a longstanding consent decree in the case.

In 1993, California state prisoner William Rouser filed suit on behalf of himself and thirty other prisoners, seeking to compel prison officials to recognize Wicca as a religion and afford it the same religious freedoms that other faiths enjoy within the prison system. The parties entered into a comprehensive settlement agreement in 1997 that afforded Rouser numerous religious accommodations. Yet prison officials repeatedly violated the agreement over the ensuing fourteen years.

The district court issued a preliminary injunction in 2010, finding that prison officials had substantially burdened Rouser’s religious exercise. The parties then entered into a 2011 consent decree, reaffirming the state’s obligations under the 1997 settlement agreement and providing Rouser additional relief. The decree allowed the defendants to move to terminate it after one year upon a showing of substantial compliance.

Soon after the 2011 decree became effective, Rouser again moved to enforce its terms and for a second preliminary injunction. He argued that prison officials violated the decree in at least five aspects. The defendants denied or attempted to justify some ...

Fifth Circuit Vacates Dismissal of Texas Grooming Policy RLUIPA Claim

The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has reversed the dismissal of a challenge to a prison grooming policy filed by Native American prisoners.

Texas state prisoners Teddy Norris Davis and Robbie Dow Goodman alleged their religious freedoms had been curtailed by TDCJ policies related to pipe ceremonies, medicine bags and hair length restrictions.

Davis and Goodman brought federal suit alleging First Amendment, Equal Protection and Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) claims. They argued that the challenged TDCJ policies burdened the exercise of their religious beliefs by preventing them from: 1) smoking a prayer pipe during Native American ceremonies; 2) wearing a religiously significant “medicine bag” outside their cells; and 3) growing long hair or alternatively a kouplock, which is “a one inch square section of hair at the base of the skull.”

The district court found that both plaintiffs were sincere practitioners of the Native American faith and that the policies imposed a substantial burden on their religious exercise. Nevertheless, the court granted summary judgment to the TDCJ, finding it had demonstrated the policies were the least restrictive means of furthering compelling governmental interests related to prison security. Goodman and Davis appealed.

The Fifth ...

HRDC/PLN Obtain Landmark Nationwide Censorship Settlement with Private Prison Company

by Derek Gilna

On July 24, 2017, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the parent organization and publisher of Prison Legal News, entered into a settlement with private prison firm Management and Training Corp. (MTC), which has contracts to operate detention centers nationwide. The settlement agreement resolved what HRDC argued were First and Fourteenth Amendment violations with respect to sending publications to prisoners at the company’s facilities.

HRDC filed separate federal lawsuits alleging that MTC, a Utah corporation, had blocked the distribution of PLN books and other publications sent to prisoners at the company’s Otero County Prison Facility in New Mexico and North Central Correctional Complex in Ohio.

HRDC and PLN have published numerous articles critical of private prison companies like MTC, accusing them of engaging in the systematic violation of prisoners’ rights in their quest to generate profit. [See, e.g.: PLN, Feb. 2017, p.60; Dec. 2016, p.20; March 2011, p.24].

According to HRDC executive director Paul Wright, “MTC has a policy and practice of censoring the free speech of publishers and book distributors around the country. As a for-profit, private prison company, it is shameful that they are being paid by taxpayers to violate the ...

Oregon Prison Officials Must Provide Post-release Disability Care

An Oregon federal district court issued a preliminary injunction enjoining prison officials from releasing a disabled prisoner without assistance.

Oregon state prisoner Steven Fox was an able-bodied person when he entered prison in 2010. Due to the neglect of prison officials, however, he sustained injuries that severely limited his mobility in July 2015. As a result he now has only limited use of his right leg, is unable to move his right arm and has only 10-15 percent use of his left arm.

Fox cannot move without a wheelchair attendant. In prison, helpers assisted him in moving, transfers and other tasks such as putting on his socks. It took him 15 minutes to get out of bed without assistance. Fox occasionally fell while transferring to and from his wheelchair, and could not get up by himself. He was also unable to obtain or prepare food without help. In short, he was essentially helpless and completely dependent upon others.

Fox had been confined to a community hospital or an Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) infirmary since July 2015. At the time of his August 12, 2016 release from prison, he was housed in a prison infirmary.

Dr. Michael Wilson recommended that ...

Missouri Prisoner’s IRA May be Seized for Incarceration Costs

The Missouri Court of Appeals has held that a trial court erred as a matter of law in finding that a federal statute pre-empted the Missouri Incarceration Reimbursement Act (MIRA) and precluded attachment of a prisoner’s Individual Retirement Account (IRA).

MIRA, §§ 217.825-.841, authorizes the Missouri Department of Corrections to seize prisoner assets to reimburse incarceration costs. The law requires every prisoner to declare his or her assets under oath; that declaration is then forwarded to the state Attorney General with an estimate of the total cost of the prisoner’s incarceration.

After investigating a prisoner’s assets, the Attorney General may file a petition for reimbursement upon a good cause belief that the prisoner has sufficient resources to recover not less than ten percent of the estimated incarceration costs.

Once a MIRA petition is filed the court must issue an order requiring the prisoner to show cause why the petition should not be granted pursuant to § 217.835.2. At a hearing, the state must establish a prima facie case by proving that the prisoner is incarcerated and has assets that could be used for reimbursement; no more than ninety percent of the value of those assets may ...

Abuses at Louisiana Jail Investigated, Ten Deputies Plead Guilty

by David M. Reutter

A federal investigation into the abuse of pretrial detainees at Louisiana’s Iberia Parish Jail resulted in guilty pleas by ten sheriff’s deputies. A trial is pending for an 11th deputy who did not plead guilty, Mark Frederick. Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal was also charged but acquitted at trial in November 2016.

Ackal, who was elected to a third term in 2015, denied any wrongdoing, pointing the finger at a group of rogue deputies whom, he claimed, operated beyond his control and lied to supervisors to conceal their misconduct.

The probe of Sheriff Ackal and the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office thinned the ranks of the already small law enforcement agency. The ten former deputies who pleaded guilty to federal charges included the jail’s warden and assistant warden; the investigation stretched back to 2008, during Ackal’s first term in office, and more than 100 criminal cases involving the deputies who were charged have been tossed out.

During the sheriff’s trial, deputy Jason Comeaux, who pleaded guilty to several charges including conspiracy and deprivation of rights, said he and other deputies were protected by Ackal and directed to use excessive force against residents of majority-black neighborhoods in an ...

DOJ Publishes Ten-step Program for Halfway House Reforms

Halfway houses, known as Residential Reentry Centers (RRCs), are the last stop for federal prisoners before they are released from the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). According to a recent U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) memorandum on the subject, the BOP “maintains agreements with 103 different contractors to operate 181 [RRC] facilities nationwide, serving more than 30,000 residents a year.”

However, the quality of those facilities and effectiveness of the services they provide vary widely, with many residents complaining of substandard living conditions, indifferent staff, insufficient reentry services and lack of personal security. All RRCs are privately-operated, either by for-profit companies or non-profit organizations.

High levels of recidivism for federal prisoners seem to validate the failure of the RRC system to function effectively. Prison Legal News has repeatedly covered this issue, including numerous examples of not only shoddy business practices but profiteering and cronyism in the awarding of lucrative halfway house contracts, with profit apparently taking precedence over quality of service. [See: PLN, Feb. 2017, p.26; Jan. 2015, p.18].

The November 30, 2016 DOJ memo, authored by then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates, included a ten-point plan for reforming federal halfway houses plus a uniform “Statement ...

BJS Studies Show Number of Prisoners, Probationers Continues to Drop Slightly

by Derek Gilna

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has published three new studies based on calendar year 2015 data, with one indicating the total number of prisoners nationwide declined to the lowest level since 2005. The number of people on probation also decreased slightly, but the number of parolees and amount of bed space in local jails rose. According to the studies, the drop in the prison population was driven by an almost 7% decrease in federal prisoners.

The BJS found the “total number of prisoners under the jurisdiction of state and federal correctional authorities” was 1,526,800 at the end of 2015, a decline of 35,500 from the previous year. The prison incarceration rate dropped 3%, from 471 prisoners per 100,000 population in 2014 to 458 per 100,000 in 2015. More than half of state prisoners were incarcerated for crimes of violence whereas almost half of federal prisoners were serving time for drug offenses.

The slight decline in the number of prisoners was matched by a modest decrease of 1.5% in the number of people on community supervision, which included those on probation, parole and all other post-release supervision. Of the ...

HOPE and SCF Probation Programs Criticized in Study

Although incarceration levels in the U.S. have receded slightly this decade – to around 2.2 million people in 2016, according to the Prison Policy Initiative – the number of offenders on some form of probation or community supervision has increased. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that 4.65 million people were on probation or parole at the end of 2015, the most recent data available.

As a result, state correctional systems are exploring new ways to reduce the costs of supervision while maintaining public safety. However, programs known as “Honest Opportunity Probation and Enforcement” (HOPE), coupled with “Swift, Certain, and Fair” (SCF) sanctions for those who violate the conditions of their supervised release, may not produce sufficient cost savings to justify the increased risk posed by releasing offenders back into the community before completing their sentences.

That was the conclusion of a field study authorized by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance and conducted by the non-profit Criminology and Public Policy organization with the assistance of the Justice Policy Institute.

The study, titled “Outcome Findings from the HOPE Demonstration Field Experiment,” covered research based on elements of HOPE and SCF programs involving more ...

Plastic Spoon Not a “Dangerous Weapon” Under Oregon Law

The Oregon Court of Appeals has held that a prisoner was entitled to dismissal of a dangerous weapon charge because a plastic spoon with a slightly sharpened handle was not a dangerous weapon. The Court also held an “attempt” jury instruction should have been given.

Oregon state prisoner Sean Coby Hoard plugged his ears with toilet paper so well that he could not remove it; he sought medical attention but was told he could not be seen until the next day. Meanwhile, guards searched Hoard’s cell and found a white plastic spoon with a sharpened handle. Hoard claimed he had only used the spoon in a failed attempt to dig the paper out of his ears; a subsequent investigation did not reveal that he had threatened to use, intended to use or actually used the spoon as a weapon.

A guard described the spoon as a “shank” but later admitted it was only “a work in progress” which needed further sharpening before it could be considered a shank. Although stating the spoon was flexible, the guard claimed “it does bend, but struck with enough force, I think it would penetrate if it was sharpened.”

Hoard was charged with possession ...

Utah Supreme Court Reverses Termination of Prisoner’s Parental Rights

On December 6, 2016, the Supreme Court of Utah reversed the termination of a prisoner’s parental rights because the juvenile court had interpreted a state statute as prohibiting the appointment of counsel for the prisoner.

C.B.S. is a Utah prisoner who gave birth to E.K.S. while she was on probation and facing prison time for probation violations and new criminal charges. She asked her sister and brother-in-law to care for her daughter until she was released, as adoptive parents. Two months later her probation was revoked and she was sent to prison to serve out her original zero-to-five-year sentence. The adoptive parents filed a petition to terminate C.B.S.’s parental rights and award them custody of E.K.S.

C.B.S. responded to the petition by denying the allegations and requesting appointment of counsel. The juvenile court rejected her request, stating it was not permitted under Utah Code § 78A-6-111(2). The court did not perform a due process analysis before denying counsel, terminating C.B.S.’s parental rights and awarding custody of E.K.S. to the adoptive parents.

On appeal, the Utah Supreme Court held that although the language of ...

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke’s Jail Under Fire for Deaths, Civil Rights Abuses

by Christopher Zoukis

At least four people, including a newborn, have died in Wisconsin’s Milwaukee County Jail since April 2016. The facility, run by Sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr., houses about 950 detainees daily. The string of deaths has raised concerns about conditions at the jail, including whether adequate medical care is being provided.

The deaths have also led to questions about Sheriff Clarke, who claimed in May 2017 that he had been appointed by President Trump to serve in a leadership position in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – a position he accepted. The White House refused to confirm Clarke’s appointment, which he then said he rescinded in June 2017 following news reports that he had plagiarized parts of his master’s thesis.

Clarke, a controversial figure who is both African-American and an outspoken Trump supporter, has become known for his inflammatory comments on race, criminal justice and politics. In a July 2016 speech at the Republican National Convention, the sheriff – who ran and was elected as a Democrat – compared the Black Lives Matter movement to the KKK. In 2015 he told the Fox and Friends news show that “police brutality ended in the 1960s.” ...

Extensive Contraband Found During Shakedowns at Mississippi Prisons

A surprise predawn shakedown on March 3, 2017 yielded an “excessive amount of contraband” at one of Mississippi’s three privately-operated prisons, according to Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) Interim Commissioner Pelicia Hall. The search at the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility was the start of “Operation Zero Tolerance,” which includes surprise searches at prisons statewide.

Shakedowns were performed at the state’s two other private prisons – the East Mississippi Correctional Facility and Marshall County Correctional Facility – in March 2017, resulting in less contraband than that found at Wilkinson but still an “unacceptable” amount, Hall said in a press release.

The MDOC released photos of tables covered with shanks, drugs and cell phones that had been discovered. All three private prisons in the state are run by Management and Training Corp. (MTC).

On June 6, 2017, Operation Zero Tolerance netted 54 packages of tobacco, 47 cell phones, 83 cell phone chargers, pills, marijuana and shanks, among other contraband, at the MDOC’s Bolivar County Regional Correctional Facility in Cleveland during a surprise search. Hall said the contraband was “disturbing,” especially after the prison had recently conducted its own shakedown.

“I expect all facilities in the MDOC system to have zero ...

Third Circuit Vacates Summary Judgment on SHU Strip Search Claims

The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed a summary judgment order in favor of prison officials who subjected prisoners in segregation to visual body-cavity searches three times a day.

While confined in a Secured Housing Unit (SHU) cell at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Delaware prisoner Donald Parkell was given only a t-shirt, boxer briefs and socks to wear. He was never allowed to leave the cell except for three, five-minute showers per week.

Nevertheless, guards strip-searched Parkell three times each day, “visually inspecting his anus and genitals while he ‘was forced to squat naked and cough loudly.’”

Parkell filed suit in federal court, alleging, among other claims, that guards violated his Fourth Amendment rights by subjecting him to repeated visual body-cavity searches while he was in the SHU. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on all claims.

The Third Circuit reversed on appeal in an exhaustive ruling, finding that “the State Defendants were not entitled to summary judgment on the question of whether the searches violated the Fourth Amendment.”

The appellate court concluded “that the particular search policy” before it was “not reasonably related to ... legitimate interests in detecting and deterring ...

Florida, South Carolina, New Jersey Latest States to Pass Mugshot Extortion Laws

On June 16, 2017, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed legislation to regulate the online mugshot industry, preventing websites that publish booking photos from charging a fee to remove them.

South Carolina passed a similar law, known as the “Mugshot Extortion Bill,” in February 2016. As former state Senator Paul Thurmond said at the time, companies that publish mugshots online “literally extort hundreds of dollars from people to remove [them]. In my opinion, that’s just wrong.” Thurmond is the son of the late U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond.

PLN has previously reported on the extortion tactics of websites such as, which charge people to remove their booking photos from websites even when the criminal charges were dismissed, they were acquitted or the information posted is inaccurate. [See: PLN, Aug. 2014, p.48; Oct. 2012, p.36].

The new laws in Florida and South Carolina require mugshot sites to remove a person’s photo upon request and prohibit them from charging a fee to do so. The latter practice is the subject of a class-action lawsuit filed in 2016 in Illinois against – which posted the booking photos – and a related business called, which ...

Oregon Prisoner’s Conversion Claim Against Guard Reinstated

The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s dismissal of a prisoner’s handwritten, pro se filing for failure to state a claim.

Oregon prisoner Michael Spillino filed a handwritten petition in circuit court, claiming that Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) lieutenant Hogeland wrongfully took his personal property, valued at $600. He sought the return of his property or $600 in damages.

The circuit court initially waived Spillino’s filing fee pursuant to ORS 30.643. However, it then sua sponte dismissed the action for failure to state a claim under ORS 30.647(2)(b). The Court of Appeals reversed, finding that “the contents of plaintiff’s filing were sufficient to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.”

The appellate court noted that Spillino “filed a document entitled ‘Standard Tort Claim Form,’ a preprinted form apparently supplied by the Department of Corrections, with sections for ‘Facts’ and ‘Details of Damages.’” Spillino had “completed the form by hand.”

The Court of Appeals held that Spillino’s claim that Hogeland wrongly took and refused to return his personal property “was sufficient to state a claim for conversion.” That is, he alleged sufficient facts to support a claim ...

Oregon Prosecutors and Cops Bully Parole Board into Improperly Rescinding Parole; Court Orders Release

The Oregon Court of Appeals held last year that a prisoner’s release date had been improperly rescinded due to a public outcry, contrary to state law.

Oregon prisoner Sidney Dean Porter was sentenced to life imprisonment for beating police officer Frank L. Ward to death in 1992. Porter’s blood alcohol content (BAC) was more than three times the legal limit at the time of the crime.

On July 18, 2012, the Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision (Board) found Porter was likely to be rehabilitated. During that hearing, Ward’s brother forgave Porter and said he should get a second chance at life outside prison.

At a November 2012 hearing, the Board set a June 7, 2013 release date for Porter, which was affirmed at another hearing in February 2013. Despite being notified by the Board, the prosecutor did not appear at the hearings. Nevertheless, on April 3, 2013 the Oregon District Attorney’s Association, Oregon Sheriff’s Association and Association of Chiefs of Police petitioned the Board to reverse its decision.

“I’m not ready for Dean Porter to be released,” said Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer. “I never thought I’d see the day he’d get out while I was still in ...

Prison Mailbox Rule Applies to Alabama Sentence Reconsideration Motions

The Alabama Supreme Court held last year that the prison mailbox rule applies to a motion for sentence reconsideration under former state law.

Alabama Code § 13A-5-9.1 authorized the filing of a motion for sentence reconsideration, but the state legislature repealed that provision effective March 13, 2014. The repeal bill provided that it was prospective only, and any motion filed before the effective date would not be affected.

On March 6, 2014, prisoner Joe Louis Spencer filed a motion for sentence reconsideration under § 13A-5-9.1. However, for reasons not specified, the circuit court clerk did not receive his motion for over a year, on March 23, 2015.

The court denied Spencer’s motion several days later because it was filed after the repeal cut-off date of March 13, 2014. Spencer sought reconsideration, arguing that he was entitled to the benefit of the prison mailbox rule, which would deem his motion filed when he placed it in the prison’s mail system on March 6, 2014. The circuit court denied his motion but did not address the applicability of the mailbox rule, which was originally set forth in Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266, 108 S.Ct. 2379 (1988).

The ...

Mississippi Closes Troubled Former Youth Prison

Citing budgetary cuts, the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) finally closed the troubled, privately-operated Walnut Grove Correctional Facility (WGCF) on September 15, 2016.

As previously reported in PLN, Walnut Grove had been under a federal consent decree since 2012 over allegations of guards smuggling drugs and having sex with youthful offenders, denial of medical care and educational services, and grossly unsafe conditions.

The federal judge over the case wrote that WGCF, managed by GEO Group at the time, had “allowed a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate, the sum of which places the offenders at substantial ongoing risk,” and that the prison “paint[ed] a picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world.”

Juveniles were removed from Walnut Grove under the consent decree; the facility subsequently housed adult prisoners.

In 2015, the district court overseeing the litigation denied a motion to dissolve the decree, citing gang activity, cell doors that did not lock properly and continued problems with untrained, inexperienced guards. The prison had also experienced two major riots the year before. [See: PLN, Sept. 2016, p.60; Nov. 2013, p.30].

The 2016 fiscal year resulted in a 5 ...

Denver Man, Accused of Rape Due to Mishandled DNA, Has Lawsuit Dismissed

by Derek Gilna

Shawnnon Hale, 24, wrongful accused of felony rape and jailed for 61 days, was released from custody in Denver, Colorado in early 2015 when the police crime lab acknowledged it had mislabeled a DNA sample that incorrectly identified him as the perpetrator. As a result of his arrest and incarceration, Hale filed a federal civil rights suit accusing crime lab technicians Eric Duvall and Brian Pirot of “objectively unreasonable” actions.

The complaint claimed that “Defendants Duvall and Pirot engaged in their respective actions and inaction with reckless disregard and/or gross negligence,” which resulted in Hale’s “unreasonable seizure ... causing him to suffer a loss of freedom, loss of income, reputational damage and mental and emotional distress.”

Hale had steadfastly maintained his innocence both before and after his arrest for sexually assaulting a woman who had been at a party he attended in July 2014, stating he never had contact with her. “No, that’s not possible,” he said. Denver police officers had recovered a cigarette butt that allegedly contained his DNA, but it was discovered after his arrest that the DNA sample had been misidentified by the crime lab.

“The Denver Police Department is in ...

American University Removes Statue of Imprisoned Native American Activist

by Derek Gilna

American University, a private college in Washington, D.C., bowed to pressure from a federal law enforcement group and removed a statue of Native American activist and prisoner Leonard Peltier, who was convicted of the 1975 murder of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Peltier, 71, a former leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM), has always maintained his innocence. He is considered to be a political prisoner by Amnesty International, the National Congress of American Indians and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights.

On December 9, 2016, an artist identified only as Rigo 23, with the permission of American University, installed a nine-foot-tall redwood statute of Peltier with a base fashioned to represent the dimensions of the prison cell in which he is confined. The artist said the statute is “a symbol of Native struggle for self-determination in North America.”

However, school officials had the statue removed in early January 2017 after receiving a letter of opposition from the FBI Agents Association.

“[T]he removal of this political work of art is an extreme and particularly shameful example of censorship of political expression. American University ...

Oregon Parole Board Must Define Applicable Statutory Terms

The Oregon Court of Appeals has held that a prisoner was improperly denied an early parole consideration hearing when the Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision (Board) failed to define “reasonable cause” before applying that statutory term.

In 1986, George W. Nulph was convicted of several crimes and the trial court found he suffered from a severe personality disorder that rendered him a danger to the community. As a result, the court imposed enhanced “Dangerous Offender” sentences for each of Nulph’s convictions.

The Board established a February 19, 2017 parole consideration (PC) date for Nulph. Under Oregon law, the Board holds a “PC hearing” approximately six months before the PC date to determine whether it should be affirmed or deferred. If the Board finds the condition which initially made the prisoner dangerous is absent or in remission, the prisoner is entitled to release on the PC date. Otherwise the Board defers parole consideration for two years.

A prisoner may request an early PC hearing under ORS 144.228(1)(c). To obtain such a hearing, the prisoner must show “there is reasonable cause to believe that the dangerous condition is in remission.” If that showing is made, the Board ...

California Prison Officials Shift Responsibility for Work Injuries to Prisoners

by Derek Gilna

California state prisons are known to be dangerous and violent places, but prisoners employed in industry programs at those facilities are also at serious risk of work-related injuries, as indicated by records maintained by the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA).

According to CALPIA, there have been over 600 injuries suffered by prisoner workers since 2012, ranging from amputations, crushed fingers and eye injuries to carpel tunnel syndrome and other routine injuries and accidents. California prison officials have attempted to deflect blame for many of those incidents, characterizing the injured prisoners as careless or negligent – even though working conditions in most prisons are clearly substandard.

“In spite of training and proper safety equipment provided by CALPIA, there are times when inmates violate training protocols,” remarked CALPIA spokeswoman Michele Kane.

Workers in non-correctional settings are covered by numerous rules and regulations designed to protect them from injuries and provide reasonable financial compensation if accidents occur. The federal Occupational Health and Safety Agency (OSHA) publishes comprehensive standards for all industries to improve working conditions, but prisoners typically lack even basic protections.

Ironically, OSHA recently found that guards “at two West Virginia federal facilities still lack safety gloves to ...

Prisoner Rights Event Prompts Florida Prison System Lockdown

by Derek Gilna

The "Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March," held in Washington, D.C. on August 19, 2017, apparently prompted a statewide lockdown by the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) to prevent any displays of solidarity with the free-world marchers, according to prisoners’ rights advocates. The protest in the nation’s capital called for the removal of the exception clause in the Thirteenth Amendment, which prohibits “slavery and involuntary servitude” except “as a punishment for crime.”

Organizers of the march argue this exception has encouraged the use of prison slave labor in the U.S. penal system and perpetuates a form of slavery. Indeed, prisoners typically are forced to work for paltry wages or no pay at all in several states.

Speakers at the D.C. march, which attracted numerous participants, noted that previous demonstrations had sparked hunger strikes and other peaceful protests within prisons, in solidarity with outside prisoner rights organizations. Florida prison officials apparently were attempting to forestall such incidents.

Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News and director of the Human Rights Defense Center, said this was the first time he recalled the FDOC locking down all facilities and canceling visitation for what it termed a ...

News in Brief

Alaska: A former prison guard convicted of smuggling drugs into the Goose Creek Correctional Center was sentenced on April 24, 2017 to eight months in federal prison. Adam Jason Spindler, 33, pleaded guilty to one count each of drug conspiracy and possession of controlled substances with the intent to distribute. He was arrested after heroin and marijuana were discovered in a bag he tried to bring into the facility. Spindler later admitted to the FBI that he planned to distribute the drugs to a prisoner, Edward Wayne George. Spindler contacted George’s girlfriend, Taylor Marie Hunter, around 35 times, attorneys said, to coordinate the drug delivery; he was paid about $1,400. George was also charged, and in April 2017 was sentenced to 33 months in prison and three years of supervised release. Hunter was sentenced on May 15, 2017 to time served and three years of supervised release.

California: According to a February 9, 2017 statement from Madera County District Attorney David Linn, a Chowchilla prison guard whose one-year-old son was fatally shot by his three-year-old sister will face a felony count of manslaughter and two felony counts of child abuse, one involving each child. The District Attorney’s office alleged ...


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Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual



Federal Prison Handbook




Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual