by Amy Julia Harris and Shoshana Walter, Reveal
The worst day of Brad McGahey’s life was the day a judge decided to spare him from prison.
McGahey was 23 with dreams of making it big in rodeo, maybe starring in his own reality TV show. With a 1.5 GPA, he’d barely graduated from high school. He had two kids and mounting child support debt. Then he got busted for buying a stolen horse trailer, fell behind on court fines and blew off his probation officer.
Standing in a tiny wood-paneled courtroom in rural Oklahoma in 2010, he faced one year in state prison. The judge had another plan.
“You need to learn a work ethic,” the judge told him. “I’m sending you to CAAIR.”
McGahey had heard of Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery. People called it “the Chicken Farm,” a rural retreat where defendants stayed for a year, got addiction treatment and learned to live more productive lives. Most were sent there by courts from across Oklahoma and neighboring states, part of the nationwide push to keep nonviolent offenders out of prison.
Aside from daily cans of Dr Pepper, McGahey wasn’t addicted to anything ...
by Derek Gilna
Following an investigative report by Reveal, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting, at least four federal lawsuits were filed against Christian Alcoholics and Addicts in Recovery (CAAIR) and Simmons Foods, Inc. in October and November 2017. The suits allege that defendants sent to CAAIR by drug courts in lieu of incarceration were exploited by being required to work for little or no pay.
According to one of the complaints, filed by Arthur Copeland as lead plaintiff in a putative class action, “Defendants conspired to profit from a vulnerable workforce under the guise of providing alcohol and drug counseling and rehabilitation services to Plaintiffs ... [who] performed taxing, manual labor for Defendants in a poultry processing plant” for no wages, and were compelled to live in a dorm with bunk beds and served meals consisting of bologna sandwiches.
“Many residents of CAAIR are sent to CAAIR by Oklahoma drug courts so they can receive drug and alcohol treatment,” the complaint continued. However, there was little treatment beyond 12-step meetings held after the work day was over.
Simmons Foods is the eighteenth largest chicken processor in the United States; the company supplies chicken for Rachael Ray’s Nutrish ...
by Paul Wright
Welcome to the first issue of PLN for 2018. By the time you read this we should be moved into our new office in Florida. I would like to thank everyone who donated to help us with the unexpected expense of a sudden eviction by the City of Lake Worth; we will post pictures of the new office on our website once we get situated. That being said, our expenses are going up significantly since commercial rents have increased in Florida over the past 4 years. The move should not affect our publication schedule, but it might impact book orders. We will do our best to keep any disruptions to a minimum.
It is not too late to donate to our annual fundraiser! We are still trying to raise $75,000 in order to hire a full-time investigative reporter to cover criminal justice issues that the mainstream media isn’t reporting. If you can afford to make a tax-deductible donation towards that goal, please do so.
The only issue as old as the United States is that of slavery, and this month’s cover story explores one of the latest nuances of prison slave labor whereby criminal defendants are ...
by Panagioti Tsolkas
Any attention that Florence,Colorado receives from the world outside its rural and mountainous borders tends to involve the federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) supermax facility, built near the city 25 years ago. And news coverage of the prison, known as the ADX, doesn’t tend to be very flattering. For example, last year the New York Times Magazine featured a high-profile lawsuit challenging solitary confinement conditions at ADX that have driven once-sane prisoners into total madness, including reports of self-castration and prisoners eating their own fingers.
Florence was once known for coal mining and uranium milling, and while the beauty of the area endured despite such industrial activity, there’s not much left aside from prisons as a form of economic development. The ADX is one of a dozen state and federal facilities located in the remote region.
In 1993, construction of the federal prison complex in Florence reportedly enjoyed a 97% approval rate from area residents who were starved for jobs. While it experienced local fanfare, the facility was also a subject of national controversy due to the residual contamination of coal and uranium processing to which prisoners would be exposed and the extreme isolation they ...
by Jean Trounstine, originally published September 30, 2017, Truthout.org.
The United States has the shameful reputation of being the world's largest jailer, and as the Prison Policy Initiative reported in March, 2017, 2.3 million people are currently locked up in prisons and jails. This mass incarceration continues in spite of the fact that a Brennan Center for Justice report shows that crime is down and rates remain near historic lows.
Furthermore, our punishment system extends beyond the prison walls and includes destructive parole policies. "Max Out," a 2014 Pew Charitable Trusts report, details that over the past three decades, those sent to prison have been serving longer sentences. They are less likely to earn parole, the opportunity to finish one's sentence in the community. This occurs in spite of the fact that research shows that longer sentences do not make us safer and do not prevent people from returning to prison, even as they cost more.
But here's the good news: Activists across the county are seeking remedies for people impacted by this failing parole system, and in some cases, changing the system itself.
How Is Parole Failing?
Parole is often portrayed as "a free ...
by Derek Gilna
On March 16, 2017, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court dismissed all administrative charges against state prisoner Lawrence George Wilson, who was accused of violating prison disciplinary rules under CPLR article 78. Wilson had been charged with “bribery, solicitation, possessing personal identifying information, violating facility correspondence procedures, and receiving compensation for providing legal assistance,” according to the ruling.
“During the course of an investigation, correction officials conducted a mail watch of petitioner’s outgoing correspondence, monitored his telephone calls and subpoenaed certain bank records ... suggesting the petitioner was involved in the operation of two limited liability corporations,” the appellate court wrote. However, the court said, there was one problem that compromised the investigation: state authorities had failed to follow their own procedures.
“NYCCR 720.3(e) provides that a mail watch involving the inspection of an inmate’s outgoing mail shall only be permitted upon ‘express written authorization from the facility superintendent.’” Such authorization was never obtained, the Appellate Division found, noting that Wilson had “requested a copy of the mail watch authorization four times during the course of the hearing, but it was never produced and is not part of the record ...
by Derek Gilna
On June 14, 2017, Utah officials entered into a settlement to resolve a federal class-action lawsuit that alleged the state failed to provide timely and proper mental health competency evaluations and treatment to pre-trial detainees. According to the complaint, filed in 2015 by the Disability Law Center under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Utah State Hospital (USH) violated both the Fourteenth Amendment and Article I, Section 7 of Utah’s state constitution by failing to provide mental health treatment to ensure defendants were competent to stand trial.
This was a significant issue because the lack of timely treatment meant pre-trial detainees with mental competency issues faced undue delays in having their day in court.
According to the complaint, “For years, Defendant USH has failed to provide competency restoration treatment within a reasonable period of time from the date of the court order requiring treatment, as measured against nationally-recognized standards. Individuals who are adjudged incompetent are placed on a waiting list for months, during which they remain confined in a municipal or county jail until a bed at Defendant USH’s Forensic Facility becomes available.”
Additionally, the lawsuit stated, “It is not uncommon for these individuals to ...
by Christopher Zoukis
A retired Army colonel who was denied a promotion due to a rape accusation has been awarded $8.4 million in a defamation lawsuit filed against his accuser.
Col. David “Wil” Riggins, a highly-decorated veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, was up for promotion to brigadier general in July 2013 when he was accused of raping a fellow cadet at West Point in 1986. The accuser, Susan Shannon of Everett, Washington, claimed that Riggins sexually assaulted her after she was provided free beer on the West Point campus and drank herself unconscious. Shannon, 52, further alleged that Riggins had “smugly admitted he did indeed rape” her.
Riggins vehemently denied the claim, and reportedly waived his right to an attorney and gave a statement. When an Army Criminal Investigative Division investigation was launched, he reported he had a short relationship with Shannon in 1983 that included at least one consensual sexual encounter. Shannon called Riggins’ version of events “a complete fabrication.”
When Shannon resigned from the military academy in the spring of 1986, court records indicated that she denied having been sexually assaulted. It wasn’t until July 15, 2013 – around 27 years later, and just 13 ...
by Derek Gilna
On March 7, 2017, the National Registry of Exonerations published a report that found African-Americans are much more likely than whites to be wrongfully convicted and spend more time in prison before being exonerated. The report noted that although blacks represent just 13% of the U.S. population, they constitute 47% of the approximately 2,000 exonerated individuals listed in the National Registry.
The registry was created in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University, and provides detailed information about every known confirmed exoneration in the United States since 1989. The cases catalogued in the registry include those in which a person was wrongfully convicted and later cleared based upon evidence of their innocence.
The report, which focused on cases involving murder, sexual assault and drug crimes, was produced jointly by the National Registry and the Newkirk Center for Science and Society at the University of California, Irvine. According to the study, “There is no one explanation for the heavy concentration of black defendants among those convicted of crimes they did not commit ... [the] causes ... run from inevitable consequences of patterns in crime and punishment to deliberate acts of racism.”
by Christopher Zoukis
Around 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails launched a hunger strike on April 17, 2017, a date also known as Palestinian Prisoners Day. According to the Palestinian Prisoners Center for Studies, the strike was meant to protest the “difficult humanitarian conditions” inside Israeli prisons.
Al Jazeera reported that the prisoners’ demands included bi-monthly family visitation, increasing the duration of visits and installing public telephones in areas where prisoners are held. The ability of Palestinian prisoners to communicate with their families is severely limited due to their detention inside Israel, as opposed to the occupied Palestinian territories where the majority of prisoners resided prior to their incarceration. This means that family members who want to visit their imprisoned loved ones must apply for permits, which are not always granted.
Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera that the Israeli policy of holding prisoners from occupied territories within Israel violates the Geneva Convention.
“Palestinian prisoners are placed inside Israel as opposed to the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” said Shakir. “This is a crippling restriction on access to family and loved ones.”
Amnesty International also condemned Israel’s incarceration ...
by Lonnie Burton
Several studies have shown that prisoners released directly to the streets from solitary confinement are more likely to reoffend, commit new crimes sooner and exhibit violent behavior after release. The most recent study, “From Solitary to Society,” authored by Samarth Gupta and published in the Harvard Political Review, also found that prisoners held in long-term isolation are 33 percent more likely to commit suicide than those in general population.
Supporters of solitary confinement (a term that includes administrative segregation and other forms of restrictive housing) have long touted the purported benefits of harsh conditions in solitary – which often include spending 23 or 24 hours a day locked in a small cell with little human interaction. They argue that such conditions may serve as a way to deter prisoners from committing disciplinary offenses and future crimes.
Data from prison systems in a number of states tell a different story, though. Statistics indicate that prisoners who have spent time in segregation are more likely to reoffend than those who have served their sentences in general population. If you include prisoners who are released directly from solitary to the streets, the numbers – and the adverse effects – ...
by Matt Clarke
On February 7, 2017, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that a district court erred when it dismissed a prisoner’s civil rights lawsuit that was brought in forma pauperis without first evaluating his exculpatory explanation that prison staff had refused to give him a required trust account ledger to attach to his complaint.
Tuwayne Bell, an Illinois state prisoner, filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that various defendants had deliberately disregarded dangerous conditions in the prison kitchen, resulting in an injury to his foot. He included an application to proceed in forma pauperis but did not attach a printout showing his trust fund account transactions over the previous six months as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2). Instead, he included a sworn statement that he was unable to provide the trust fund ledger because prison officials had refused to give him a copy.
The district court denied the application because the ledger was missing. Without setting a deadline, it sent Bell a warning that his case would be dismissed unless he filed a new application or paid the filing fee. The court ...
The Arkansas Supreme Court held on March 16, 2017 that a lower court abused its discretion by denying a prisoner’s motion for a preliminary injunction without holding a hearing.
Arkansas prisoner Malik Muntaqim is a member of the Nation of Islam (NOI). He alleged that literature developed by NOI ministers was essential to the practice of his faith, and that The Final Call, a weekly NOI periodical, was the primary means of providing religious instruction to NOI members and advancing their religion.
Prison officials apparently refused to allow Muntaqim to receive The Final Call or to lead NOI religious services. He then filed suit in state court alleging that 22 Arkansas Department of Corrections employees had violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc, et seq. and the Arkansas Constitution. He also filed motions for summary judgment, a preliminary injunction and default judgment, seeking to enjoin the defendants from violating his rights.
The trial court denied Muntaqim’s motion without holding a hearing on the merits, finding that the proposed injunction would alter the status quo and he had failed to show a likelihood of success on the ...
by Derek Gilna
Helen Stokes, a 65-year-old Pennsylvania woman with no criminal record, was nonetheless continually denied credit due to inaccuracies in her background report that a property credit reporting company refused to correct. Consequently, she filed a class-action complaint in federal court that alleged damages as a result of ...
by Lonnie Burton
In October 2016 report by Prison Voice Washington detailed the adverse effects of a takeover of food services in Washington state prisons by Correctional Industries (CI). The report, titled “Correcting Food Policy in Washington Prisons: How the DOC Makes Healthy Food Choices Impossible for Incarcerated People and What Can be Done,” described how shifting prison food services to CI has cost the state millions of dollars – from higher food costs, increased health care expenditures and more prisoner violence stemming from discontent over poor-quality meals.
The report also revealed that the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) was in violation of Executive Order 13-06, signed by Governor Jay Inslee, which mandates that state agencies serve healthy, nutritious food to people in their charge.
The Washington DOC incarcerates over 18,000 prisoners, and the food provided by CI in state prisons “is now unhealthier than it has ever been,” the report found. For example, CI has eliminated all freshly-prepared food and every main course is now “a reheated, highly processed CI product with high amounts of sodium.”
Unprocessed meat is never served. No fresh vegetables are provided, other than carrots and celery. Breakfasts have been eliminated ...
by Derek Gilna
Officials in Floyd County, Indiana agreed on July 24, 2017 to settle a federal class-action lawsuit that alleged jail officials kept prisoners in padded cells, “deprived [them] of clothing, bedding, and hygiene products,” and tased and pepper-sprayed them. Named as defendants in the 2014 complaint were former sheriff Darrell Mills, jail staff and the Floyd County Commissioners, who were accused of violating the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments.
The class members in the suit consisted of “All inmates confined from June 12, 2012, to present in the Floyd County Jail who were not on a suicide watch, but were housed in a padded cell where they were deprived of clothing, bedding, and hygiene products.”
The complaint also alleged that “upon information and belief, video footage was taken of the above abuses. This video footage, which includes clear and graphic depictions of Plaintiffs’ naked bodies, is available to Floyd County Sheriff employees, other members of Floyd County government, and to the general public.”
Under the terms of the $1.23 million settlement, class members will receive a maximum of $25,000 while an additional $15,000 will be distributed to each of the ...
by Matt Clarke
Santa Clara County, California has agreed to pay $3.6 million to the family of a mentally ill man who was beaten to death by guards in the county’s San Jose jail. The three guards who killed him, who had attacked another prisoner the day before, were charged with murder and assault.
Michael James Pipkin Tyree, 31, was homeless and mentally ill when he was booked into Santa Clara County’s jail system to serve a five-day sentence for petty theft. He was housed in a section of the jail reserved for prisoners in protective custody or having special needs while he awaited transfer to a mental health facility.
On August 26, 2015, a nurse told guard Jereh Lubrin that Tyree had pocketed his medication instead of taking it. When Lubrin confronted him, Tyree screamed that the nurse was “a liar and a rapist” but produced the medicine and took it. A few hours later, after locking the prisoners in for the night, Lubrin and guards Matthew Farris and Rafael Rodriguez made rounds of the cells to search for contraband.
The previous day they had confronted prisoner Juan Villa, 48, over a dispute he had with another prisoner ...
by Greg Dober
On November 19, 2017, Heather AnnThompson, a professor of history at the University of Michigan, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which she described medical experiments that took place at the Attica Correctional Facility in the early 1970s.
Thompson, author of the recently-released book Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy [see: PLN, Nov. 2016, p.32], reported that an article in the November 23, 1972 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine had cited prisoners at Attica being used for medical research. The U.S. Public Health Service and the National Institute of Health funded the project.
Two of the researchers had affiliations with the University of Kentucky and University of Rochester; they recruited nine prisoners for medical studies involving leprosy. Leprosy, a bacterial infection also known as Hansen’s disease, can cause permanent disfigurement, nerve damage and respiratory problems.
All of the prisoners had been diagnosed with leprosy. Four received white blood cells from adult males (donors) that had reactivity to skin-tested antigens of leprosy and TB, indicating they had been exposed to those diseases. A tuberculoid bacterium causes one form of leprosy. The researchers were ...
by Matt Clarke
In December 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released two reports on deaths in state and federal prisons and local jails, covering more than a decade of mortality data ending in 2014.
As of yearend 2014 there were an estimated 1,433,800 prisoners held in the nation’s state and federal facilities. During that year, 3,483 state prisoners died while 444 died in federal prisons. The total of 3,927 deaths was up slightly from 3,879 in 2013, and represented the most prisoner deaths since the BJS began collecting data in 2001. There were a total of 50,785 deaths in state and federal prisons between 2001 and 2014, combined.
Males accounted for 96% of the deaths. However, in 2014 the number of female prisoners who died (154) increased by 9% over the previous year.
Illnesses accounted for around 87% of all state prisoners’ deaths in 2014, with cancer (30%) and heart disease (26%) accounting for more than half. The mortality rate for male state prisoners who died due to cancer, heart disease and liver disease was double that of female state prisoners.
The HIV-related morality rate was 17 ...
by Matt Clarke
According to a December 15, 2016 news report, Debbie Moak, then-director of the Arizona Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family, issued a letter of guidance recommending that criminal justice agencies not adopt policies supported by Start by Believing.
Start by Believing, a nonprofit victim-centered initiative, works to remove obstacles to the reporting of sexual violence. It is an offshoot of End Violence Against Women International, a Washington State-based organization founded by retired San Diego sex-crimes investigator Joanne Archambault. [See: PLN, Oct. 2017, p.60].
“The concern is that the interjection of ‘belief’ into the law enforcement investigation creates the possibility of real or perceived confirmation bias,” Moak wrote in her three-page guidance letter sent to Arizona prosecutors. “While investigations and interviews with victims should always be done in a respectful and trauma-informed manner, law enforcement agencies, and other agencies co-located in advocacy centers, are strongly cautioned against adopting Start by Believing.”
Archambault countered that Start by Believing is intended to keep victims from being “shut down by interrogation,” and does not require police to believe or say they believe a victim’s allegations. The goal is to prevent investigators from assuming that an alleged ...
by Matt Clarke
In January 2017, Otero County, Colorado paid $150,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a jail prisoner who was sexually assaulted by a former guard.
Jennifer Hernandez, a mother of two, was booked into the Otero County Jail as a pretrial detainee.
“It’s a little backwater jail where they have all kinds of issues and problems,” said Denver attorney David A. Lane, who represented Hernandez. “They’ve got virtually no privacy for any inmates. They put all the female inmates into one big cell, and it’s an old-fashioned jail, where they have bars defining the cells. They don’t have steel doors for privacy, so whenever someone uses the bathroom, anyone can see it. You’re constantly having male guards seeing female inmates naked and female guards seeing naked male inmates.”
Other prisoners told Hernandez about Deputy Dominic Torres, a night-shift guard who was “flirty” and tried to “sexualize every encounter.” The night shift was manned by a single guard who was responsible for monitoring the female prisoners; he observed them disrobing and watched them shower.
Soon, Torres approached Hernandez to solicit sexual favors. She repeatedly rebuffed him, but the sexual harassment continued. He took her ...
In March 2017, the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit vacated a summary judgment order in favor of jail officials on claims stemming from a detainee’s death.
On February 23, 2012, Jerome Harrell reported to the jail in Stearns County, Minnesota on outstanding traffic warrants. Booking staff noted that he had “special needs” because he appeared high.
Harrell said he “needed to come clean” about Tupac Shakur’s murder and made seemingly bizarre comments about an unsolved local shooting. Nevertheless, detectives interviewed him at the jail between 9:30 and 10:30 p.m., and Harrell “appeared anxious” after the interview.
When jail guards Mary Armstrong and Patrick Culloton started their 11 p.m. shift, they were told that Harrell seemed high and had exhibited strange behavior. They were required to conduct well-being checks (WBCs) every 30 minutes; during their first check, Armstrong and Culloton observed he was behaving oddly. Throughout the night Harrell made “loud howling and screaming vocals” and was banging on his cell door. Other prisoners asked guards to move or silence him.
Neither Armstrong nor Culloton spoke to Harrell or entered his cell, and although they observed his odd behavior during the WBCs, they did not ...
by Lonnie Burton
In December 2016, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo ordered an official probe into allegations of racial bias by guards in the state’s prison system. The governor’s announcement came shortly after the New York Times published evidence of racial discrimination it had uncovered following an investigation that examined nearly 60,000 prison disciplinary cases.
“I am directing the state inspector general to investigate the allegations of racial disparities in discipline in state prisons and to recommend appropriate reforms for immediate implementation,” Cuomo said in a statement.
The Times’ investigation delved into 59,354 disciplinary cases from 2015. It found that at some prisons the rate at which black and Hispanic prisoners were punished was twice that of white prisoners. Non-white prisoners also ended up in solitary confinement more often, and were held there for longer periods of time. There was also evidence of racial disparity among prisoners subjected to use of force by guards.
In addition, the Times reviewed 14,000 parole decisions spanning three years. It found that fewer than one in six black or Hispanic prisoners were released after their first hearing, compared with one in four white prisoners. The disparity was more pronounced among offenders ...
by Lonnie Burton
Under new rules adopted by a state regulatory agency in February 2017, any California jail that offered in-person prisoner visitation at the beginning of 2017 may not limit visits to video calls. Further, all future jails in the state will have to provide space for in-person, face-to-face visits, except facilities currently under construction.
In June 2017, state lawmakers took two additional steps to fight the trend toward providing video calls in local jails by requiring them to provide the first hour for free and preventing them from offering video calls exclusively.
Those moves followed Governor Jerry Brown’s veto of a bill in late 2016 that would have required California jails to provide the option of in-person visits. Senate Bill 1157 would have mandated that all county jails make space for face-to-face visitation by 2022. [See: PLN, July 2016, p.38]. Governor Brown rejected that plan, however, citing the high cost of retrofitting facilities that do not currently have visitation areas.
In his veto message, though, the governor noted the importance of in-person visits, writing that banning them “could have an adverse impact” on rehabilitation. He then directed the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) to develop ...
by Derek Gilna
In March 2017, the Montana Department of Corrections (DOC) agreed to modifications to a class-action settlement originally entered into in 1994 to resolve medical, dental and mental health complaints stemming from a 1991 prison riot. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that “five prisoners were murdered in the Maximum Security Unit, and after which corrections officers stripped, flex cuffed, physically abused, assaulted, humiliated, beat, and even tortured prisoners who had been housed in Maximum Security at the time of the riot.”
The U.S. District Court has maintained jurisdiction over the case since 1994, and attorneys representing the plaintiffs directed the court’s attention to apparent violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with respect to prisoners with mental and physical disabilities. The parties agreed to the appointment of an independent expert, who determined that numerous ADA violations had occurred, then entered into negotiations to modify the original settlement.
Under the new agreement, “no inmate shall be disciplined, placed on a behavior management plan, classified, or reclassified to a higher level of security based upon his Disability or upon behavior that is a product of his Disability, [without] a prompt and appropriate evaluation by Qualified Mental ...
A federal jury has awarded $842,119 to a former major at the Allegheny County Jail in Pennsylvania. The jury found that Walter Mikulan was fired in 2013 in an effort to get rid of older supervisors and because he was allegedly abusing the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Mikulan started as a guard at ACJ in 1984; he rose through the ranks and was promoted in 2002 to the rank of major, the third-highest position at the facility. His performance ratings were “consistently positive” and his only disciplinary action resulted in a verbal warning.
Then, in October 2012, ACJ warden Orlando Harper said he believed jail employees were abusing the FMLA and that he intended to crack down on the practice. Harper stated he would terminate FMLA abusers.
Mikulan was diagnosed in January 2013 with severe depression and anxiety, and his physician prescribed intermittent FMLA leave when necessary to deal with those conditions. On his doctor’s advice, Mikulan took two or three weeks of FMLA leave in early 2013. Immediately upon his return to work, he was subjected to a disciplinary hearing for a paperwork violation; another major at ACJ committed the same offense but was not disciplined.
by Christopher Zoukis
There is a growing epidemic of opioid addiction in the United States. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, over 33,000 opioid-related deaths occurred in 2015, representing a quadrupling of such fatalities since 1999. It is estimated that three-quarters of crimes are related to drugs and two-thirds of prisoners have a history of substance abuse.
People who end up in jail are increasingly users of heroin, painkillers and methadone. And while the offenses for which they were arrested are frequently minor, the punishment they receive sometimes amounts to a death sentence. This focus on opioid-related deaths is a more specific aspect of the larger problem of people dying in jails due to inadequate healthcare in general. [See: PLN, Jan. 2017, p.44].
PLN reviewed details surrounding the deaths of ten opioid addicts in county jails across the United States. All were preventable. Had their addictions been treated as a medical issue and not as part of the criminal justice system, their deaths could have been avoided.
Jennifer Lobato, 37, was booked into the Jefferson County jail in Colorado in March 2015 for shoplifting $57 worth of merchandise from an Old Navy store. She vomited, collapsed ...
by Derek Gilna
In May 2017, insurance companiesfor Cook County, Illinois preliminarily agreed to add $52 million to a previous settlement reached in 2010 concerning blanket strip searches of prisoners held at the Cook County Jail. The agreement resolved claims related to a federal class-action lawsuit filed by former prisoners ...
by David M. Reutter
One month after a November 2015 investigative report by the New Orleans Advocate, Louisiana State Penitentiary warden Burl Cain, 73, announced his retirement. He stepped down from his longtime position at the Angola prison effective January 1, 2016.
The report outlined a series of private real estate deals that Cain had entered into with relatives and friends of favored prisoners, in apparent violation of prison system rules. Cain had a business relationship with Charles Chatelain, the stepfather of Angola prisoner Jason Lormand; he also had a real estate partnership with William Ourso, a close friend of prisoner Leonard Nicholas.
Investigations by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (LDPSC), the State Police and the Inspector General’s Office ensued. According to LDPSC Undersecretary Thomas Bickham, Cain’s business relationships did not violate departmental policy because rules barring “non-professional relationships with offenders or offenders’ family and friends” do not actually mean what they say.
“The longstanding consensus in the department of this rule,” Bickham wrote, “is that it is intended to prohibit an employee from entering into a secretive personal and/or romantic relationship with an offender or a member of that offender’s family.”
While he ...
by Matt Clarke
On April 27, 2017, the County Board of Knox County, Illinois agreed to a $500,000 settlement in a federal lawsuit over the suicide of a pretrial detainee.
Joey Corbin, 26, had a history of mental illness and was taking psychotropic medication when he was booked into ...
by David M. Reutter
After privatizing its prison food services in 2013, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) has continued to report problems with its current vendor, Florida-based Trinity Services Group – largely the same problems it experienced with its previous contractor, Pennsylvania-based Aramark Correctional Services. [See: PLN, Dec. 2015, p.1].
By the time the state’s contract with Aramark was canceled in 2015, two years into its three-year term, 186 of the company’s employees had been subject to stop orders by the MDOC due to inappropriate – including sexual – relationships with prisoners or for bringing drugs or other contraband into correctional facilities.
Similarly, by August 2017, two years into its three-year contract, 176 Trinity employees had been subject to stop orders that prevented them from working in MDOC facilities. The company had also racked up $3.8 million in fines for contract violations. [See: PLN, Feb. 2017, p.48].
When it terminated Aramark, the MDOC had cited persistent quality problems, including maggots in food serving areas, undersized portions and unauthorized meal substitutions. As reported by PLN, subsequent issues with food portions and substitutions by Trinity preceded a peaceful protest by prisoners at the Kinross Correctional Facility in March ...
by David M. Reutter
Since 2012, at least eighteen prisoners have died at the Macomb County Jail (MCJ) in Michigan, a rate twice the national average. As a result, seven lawsuits have been filed against the jail and its private medical contractor, Correct Care Solutions. Nevertheless, Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said he remained satisfied with the performance of guards and healthcare staff at the facility.
The treatment of prisoners at MCJ has been in the public eye since the July 7, 2013 death of Jennifer Myers, 37, who was serving a 30-day sentence for failure to pay child support for her three children. Myers, a heroin addict, was arrested in a sweep of parents who were behind on their child support payments--a $1,700 delinquency that subjected her to Macomb County’s “pay or stay” policy after a judge told her to pay $500 or spend a month in jail.
Myers, who first became addicted to opioids prescribed for back pain, was unable to pay. Then she became sick in jail. In the days before her death, she progressively deteriorated from sepsis resulting from a viral infection likely complicated by her hepatitis C.
“Well, she was in there 10 days, she lost ...
A federal prisoner who obtained a $200,000 settlement from the Bureau of Prisons was ordered to pay $145,640 towards restitution to compensate his victims.
Kappelle Simpson-El was convicted in 2008 on 25 counts related to a scheme where he and four others stole cars from dealers in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. They removed the vehicle identification numbers (VINs) and replaced them with other VINs before selling the vehicles. Simpson-El was sentenced to 72 months and ordered, along with his co-defendants, to pay $432,930 in restitution.
While serving his sentence at FCI Low in Arkansas, Simpson-El sustained an injury to his lower left leg at the ankle on September 1, 2009, which caused severe pain and swelling and inhibited his ability to walk. As the injury occurred while he was playing basketball, the recreation supervisor told him to report to sick call the next morning. He did so but was told to “watch the call out” for an appointment to have his leg examined.
The appointment never came, and the pain and swelling continued to increase. Simpson-El made intermittent requests to be seen by medical staff, and on October 26 a paramedic or physician’s assistant (PA) briefly examined ...
by Derek Gilna
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has agreed to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by former prisoner Jermaine Padilla after prison staff physically abused him while he was having a mental health crisis. On April 25, 2017, the CDCR agreed to a $950 ...
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals held on June 8, 2017 that “a person confined in a state correctional facility or jail who is participating in a work-release program [is prohibited] from receiving workers’ compensation benefits for any injury sustained while engaged in such work during the person’s period of confinement.”
That ruling came in an appeal by William F. Crawford, who was injured when working on a road crew with the Division of Highways (DOH) while assigned to the Charleston Work Release Center. On March 28, 2013, Crawford was severely hurt when his hand was caught in a wood chipper. He required hospitalization and surgery, and his ring and pinky fingers were partially amputated. The Division of Corrections (DOC) paid over $90,000 in Crawford’s medical bills.
Shortly after his release from the hospital, Crawford was paroled. He then filed a claim for workers’ compensation. That claim was rejected by the claims administrator on November 15, 2013 as Crawford was not considered an “employee,” and the decision was upheld on appeal.
The Supreme Court of Appeals began by noting that Crawford worked on the road crew pursuant to a “Statewide Convict Workforce Agreement” between DOH and ...
by David M. Reutter
An audit personally overseen by Florida state Rep. David Richardson concluded the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) had approved a pricing scheme that allowed Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), now known as CoreCivic, to operate the Lake City Correctional Facility (LCCF) at a significantly higher cost than if the state had run the prison itself.
Other reports by Rep. Richardson have led to staff changes at the privately-managed Gadsden Correctional Facility for women and the closure of the Lancaster Correctional Institution (LCI) for youthful offenders.
Since Governor Rick Scott began a drive to privatize prison operations – trying to make good on a promise from his successful 2010 campaign to trim $1 billion from the state’s corrections budget – Richardson has visited some 70 Florida prisons under a law that allows state legislators to enter a facility at any time for a review and inspection.
As recently reported in PLN, Richardson began visiting prisons housing youths after reading media reports of rampant abuse and violence. [See: PLN, Oct. 2017, p.22]. That investigation led to LCI’s closure.
Since then, Rep. Richardson’s work has turned into a one-man quest to bring accountability to Florida’s seven privately-operated prisons ...
In June 2017, Shawnee County, Kansas agreed to pay $10,000 to a woman who fell from an upper bunk in her jail cell, resulting in “severe and permanent” injuries.
When Giusepinna Lidia Rogers was booked into the jail, she told staff members that she could not safely climb up and down from an upper bunk due to diabetic neuropathy in both her feet. She was told that no lower bunk was available and she would be assigned an upper bunk; her repeated requests to sleep on a mattress on the floor were denied.
On July 2, 2010, Rogers fell from the bunk several times, striking the edge of the cell toilet and the floor and allegedly sustaining injuries that included fractures to her nose and a rib, as well as “stress, anxiety, anger and fear.” With the assistance of Topeka attorney Eric Kjorlie, she filed a lawsuit in state court in 2012 that alleged premises defect, failure to adequately train staff and negligence.
Initially dismissed by the trial court, the dismissal was reversed by the Court of Appeals in a lengthy ruling on March 27, 2015. “Resolving all facts and inferences that may reasonably be drawn from the ...
by Matt Clarke
The family of a prisoner who was maced by guards as he bled to death at an Oklahoma prison operated by CoreCivic--then known as Corrections Corporation of America--has filed a lawsuit alleging prison officials allowed corruption and gangs to flourish at the facility, resulting in conditions that led to four murders. Several prisoners involved in the deadly melee have since been charged with participating in a riot.
At 4:39 p.m. on September 12, 2015, at the Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing, Oklahoma, a battle erupted in the Charlie North Unit between rival prison gangs identified as the Irish Mob and the United (sometimes reported as Universal) Aryan Brotherhood.
After a two-minute battle--using weapons that included shanks made from the prison’s light fixtures--our prisoners lay dying and three others had wounds that required hospitalization. Due to a CoreCivic policy in effect at the time, prisoners were locked out of their cells and thus could not retreat and lock themselves in for protection when the fight broke out.
In April 2017, seven prisoners – all allegedly members of the Irish Mob – were charged with participating in the riot: Gage Broom, 25; Phillip Wayne Jordan, Jr., 34 ...
On June 23, 2017, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held a detainee in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service met the criteria for application of the res ipsa loquitur doctrine, and the record would permit a fact finder to infer negligence on the part of the government.
Cedric Smith was transported on January 18, 2013 from the Rock Island County Jail in Illinois to the U.S. District Court to be arraigned on a federal weapons charge. Following the arraignment, the U.S. Marshals took him to an interview room so he could meet with his attorney to discuss the case.
The interview room had a screen to separate defendants and their counsel. It was equipped with a swing-arm stool that could be moved in front of the screen or repositioned for wheelchair accessibility. According to Smith, when he sat on the stool it “broke” and tilted backwards, causing him to fall and strike his head on the floor. He was subsequently taken to a hospital and treated for a stroke; afterward, he said he continued to suffer weakness on the left side of his body, difficulty speaking, headaches and memory impairment.
Smith filed a Federal Tort ...
by Matt Clarke
When New Mexico state prisoner Rhiannon Montoya was 36, she was incarcerated at the Rio Arriba County Jail. There she met guard Orlando Ulibarri, whom she accused of sexually assaulting her. Montoya complained about Ulibarri, who was subsequently fired for bringing contraband into the jail and possessing ...
by Matt Clarke
On December 12, 2016, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Texas district court’s sanctions of $1,000 each against lawyers representing GEO Group, the nation’s second-largest private prison operator, after finding they had engaged in discovery abuse.
Lisa Velasquez Olivarez filed a civil rights action against GEO Group and its employees alleging that, while she was incarcerated at the GEO-run Maverick County Detention Center in Texas, she was sexually assaulted by then-GEO staff member Luis Armando Valladarez. Valladarez claimed the sex was initiated by Olivarez and “consensual,” despite the fact that prisoners in Texas cannot legally consent to sexual contact with prison staff.
Early in the litigation, GEO Group attorney Shawn K. Fitzpatrick submitted the company’s initial disclosures pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(1)(A). Attorney Timothy Flocos, who was representing Valladarez, did likewise. Neither disclosure included any mention of audio recordings of Olivarez’s phone conversations with her mother and her friend Juan.
Under Rule 26(a)(1)(A), a party is required to disclose all documents, electronically stored information and tangible things it may use to support its claims or defenses, unless the sole use would be for impeachment ...
by Christopher Zoukis
The New York City Board of Correction (BOC), which provides oversight of the city’s jails, has approved the use of controversial “restraint desks” for violent prisoners aged 18 to 21 held at the Rikers Island jail complex. The desks – used in classrooms where programming is provided – allow for free movement of the hands and arms but shackle the prisoners’ ankles to the bolted-down base.
According to Winette Saunders, head of youth programming for the BOC, the desks make prisoners feel more secure and thus more willing to attend classes at the jail.
“They feel more comfortable knowing that everyone is in restraints,” Saunders said at a Board of Correction hearing in January 2017.
The desks are used in Enhanced Supervision Housing units, which have replaced solitary confinement for prisoners under the age of 21. [See: PLN, July 2015, p.21]. The desks allow the prisoners seven to 10 hours out of their cells; however, unlike their cells, where they could take a few steps, the desks leave them completely immobilized.
The BOC members who voted to allow use of the desks for another six months were not completely sold on the idea.
“The young ...
by Derek Gilna
The non-profit Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project released a report in May 2017, titled “Still Life: America’s Increasing Use of Life and Long-Term Sentences,” that explores the high number of prisoners serving life sentences despite declining prison populations across the nation. According to the report, “The number of people serving life sentences in U.S. prisons is at an all-time high.”
In 2016, a staggering 161,957 prisoners were serving life sentences, both with and without parole, constituting one of every nine state and federal prisoners. Further, an additional 44,311 prisoners were serving “virtual” or life-equivalent sentences of at least 50 years, for a total of 206,268 people or 13.9 percent of the prison population.
Not surprisingly, the report notes, “The majority are male (96.7%), most are people of color (67.6%), and nearly all (91.5%) have been convicted of a violent offense.... Nearly half (48.3%) of life and virtual life-sentenced individuals are African American, equal to one in five black prisoners overall.” Further, around 12,000 prisoners are serving life or life-equivalent sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles.
The increase in life and virtual life ...
by Derek Gilna
The non-profit Vera Institute of Justice, funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, published a report in December 2016 that detailed excessive use of solitary confinement in North Carolina’s prison system. The report, titled “Safe Alternatives to Segregation Initiative: Findings and Recommendations for the North Carolina Department of Public Safety,” contained “an assessment of DPS’s use of segregation and ... ways to decrease its use.” At the time of the report, almost 8% of the state’s prison population was held in solitary.
“Advocacy organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union have opposed the use of solitary confinement, and media outlets like Solitary Watch and The Marshall Project have published reports, news articles, and fact sheets on the topic,” the report stated. It also noted that “the National Commission on Correctional Health Care recently issued a position statement on isolation encompassing 17 principles and calling for the elimination of ‘prolonged solitary confinement’ (defined as more than 15 consecutive days).”
In addition to those organizations, the U.S. Department of Justice has also recognized that long stints in solitary confinement can cause serious mental health problems in ...
Until recently, Damon Hininger, president and CEO of CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), served as chairman of the Board of Trustees for the United Way of Metropolitan Nashville (UWMN). CoreCivic is headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.
After UWMN CEO Eric Dewey, 54, died unexpectedly on March 31, 2017, the organization embarked on a search for a replacement leader. According to a news report, the national search for a CEO was headed by Alberto R. Gonzales, the dean at Belmont University’s College of Law, and Hininger.
Gonzalez is best known as having served as U.S. Attorney General under the George W. Bush administration, where he condoned “enhanced interrogation techniques” – widely criticized as constituting torture – for terrorism suspects.
On October 3, 2017, PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann sent an email regarding the new CEO search to several UWMN officials, including interim CEO Mary Jo Wiggins, board chairman Mike Schatzlein with Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock, and vice board chair Jim Schmitz with Regions Bank.
Friedmann noted that Damon Hininger headed the nation’s largest private prison company, and that “CoreCivic is in the business of incarcerating people for the purpose of generating corporate profit.” He added, “The vast ...
To stop Michigan state prisoners from throwing food, feces or bodily fluids on guards--or exposing themselves--a new Officer Dignity Initiative has been created through a partnership between the Prosecuting Attorney Association of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC), the Michigan State Police (MSP) and the union that represents prison employees, the Michigan Corrections Organization (MCO).
The initiative is backed by a new state law that makes it a felony punishable by up to five years when prisoners engage in the sort of assaultive behavior that guards refer to as being “dressed out.”
After MCO reported 526 prisoner-on-guard assaults in 2015, the partnership announced the Officer Dignity Initiative in early 2016. Signs were posted in February 2017 to warn prisoners that “any willful attempt or threat to inflict injury”--including “dressing out” any prison employee or contract employee--was now a five-year felony, while also promising to refer violators to the Michigan State Police.
“Being ‘dressed out’ is not something that should ever be considered part of the job. It is a crime and one that robs our employees of their dignity,” said MDOC Deputy Director Ken McKee. “Our staff members need to know that when they are assaulted ...
by Derek Gilna
After eleven years of litigation and five failed consent decrees, Camden County, New Jersey corrections officials have finally agreed to pay $160,000 to settle a federal civil rights suit that alleged severe overcrowding, sanitation, poor nutrition and environmental violations of prisoners’ rights. Approved by the court ...
by Derek Gilna
An April 2017 report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) strongly criticized private prison company CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America), which operates the Leavenworth Detention Center (LDC) in Kansas. The U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), which contracts with CoreCivic to manage the facility, was also a target of the OIG’s criticism.
As previously reported in PLN,CoreCivic had already come under fire for secretly recording privileged conversations between LDC prisoners and their attorneys, then sharing the recordings with federal prosecutors. [See: PLN, May 2017, p.36; Oct. 2016, p.44].
According to the OIG report, “unbeknownst to the USMS, LDC officials had uninstalled beds prior to an American Correctional Association (ACA) inspection in 2011.” The beds – the third added to cells designed for two prisoners – were removed “to conceal from ACA that the LDC was triple-bunking detainees.”
The ACA is the main accrediting body for both public and private correctional facilities, tasked with carrying out inspections before it certifies a facility as compliant with its self-promulgated standards. [See: PLN, July 2016, p.1].
Triple-bunking violated both ACA standards and the $697 million, 20-year ...
by Monte McCoin
On December 14, 2017, former Floridaprison Sgt. Willie L. Walker was sentenced to almost two years in federal prison for attacking a prisoner and then planting a weapon to justify the beating.
In March 2015, prisoner William Hernandez was summoned to an office after a search of his housing unit at the Gulf Correctional Institution. As Hernandez entered the room, Walker immediately and without cause blasted him with pepper spray, began to punch and kick him, and hit him in the head with the O.C. spray can. Hernandez fell to the floor but Walker continued to strike and kick him. Then, in an attempt to claim he had acted in self-defense, Walker planted a shank at the scene and falsified reports about the incident.
The attack left Hernandez with severe injuries, including a fractured nose and a head wound that required several staples. Walker was found guilty of the assault on September 30, 2017.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle sentenced Walker to 21 months plus a year of supervised release and forfeiture of all retirement benefits accrued while he was employed as a prison guard. Prosecutors had recommended 24 months in prison followed by ...
Australia: According to a June 2017 news report, a GEO Group-run prison in Queensland was busted for dumping raw sewage. The waste was threatening a creek near the Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre, according to an anonymous source inside the facility who said, “A sewage truck pumped out tanks every two hours and dumps raw sewage.... In one of the prisoner blocks the sewerage system has been broken for months.” A Queensland Corrective Services spokesperson confirmed that a mechanical failure of a sewage pump had occurred, adding, “[t]he pump was repaired as quickly as possible.”
Alabama: On June 11, 2017, Cardel Tarver, 24, who worked at the Bullock Correctional Facility as a guard, was searched when he reported to work and found with cell phones, chargers, 63 grams of marijuana, 29 grams of synthetic cannabinoids, 30 grams of flakka and 84 Xanax pills. Tarver was arrested on multiple charges, including promoting contraband in a state prison, unlawful possession of a controlled substance and using his position for personal gain. He resigned following his arrest.
California: Eleven people, including a former guard at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, were charged on February 28, 2017 with being members ...