by Steve Horn and Iris Wagner
A comprehensive set of public records obtained by Prison Legal News from the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) and most of the state’s county jails indicates that the average cost of local and in-state phone calls made by Washington prisoners has steadily increased in recent years.
The records also demonstrate an ongoing shift toward video-based calling in county jails, which in some cases has resulted in the elimination of in-person, face-to-face visits. PLN uses the term “video calling” because “video visits” implies people are actually visiting each other rather than seeing their images on a screen. The records procured by PLN further indicate that some of the money generated from phone and video calling revenue at county jails, which is placed in Inmate Welfare Funds, is used to pay the salaries and benefits of jail employees instead of benefiting prisoners.
These developments have occurred despite the state’s proclaimed desire to lower phone rates for prisoners and, ironically, are partly due to a cap on interstate (long distance) prison and jail phone rates imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Using Washington’s Public Records Act, PLN obtained and reviewed telecom contracts for the Washington Department ...
A recent report on a ban on in-person visitation at the jail in Knox County, Tennessee concluded that the ban “makes the jail more dangerous, does nothing to stop the flow of contraband, and strips money from the pockets of families.”
In April 2014, the Knox County Jail (KCJ) eliminated in-person visits and replaced them with video calls through its contractor, Securus Technologies. Jail officials touted the $5.99 cost of a remote 30-minute video call as “less than two gallons of gasoline.” Video terminals are available at KCJ at no cost, though family members have to travel to the facility to “visit” via a video screen.
The contract with Securus pays the jail a 50 percent “commission” kickback on revenue generated from the video calls, which earned Knox County $68,777 from March 2014 to November 2017.
As part of their rhetoric in support of the in-person visitation ban, KCJ officials said it would lower violence among prisoners at the facility. Since the ban was enacted, however, the “total rate of assaults increased by an average of one assault per 100 inmates,” the report found. With an average population of about 1,000 prisoners, that equates ...
by Paul Wright
In 1992, the Washington Department of Corrections signed its first prison phone contract with AT&T that required the company to give the DOC a “commission” kickback in exchange for the monopoly contract. Previously, AT&T provided phone services to the DOC with no kickback, using live operators. I wrote about this in the April 1993 issue of PLN, in an article titled “DOC Phone Rip Off” (available on the PLN website, as are all our back issues). Twenty-six years later, prisons and jails in Washington State are still receiving kickbacks as prisoners and their families continue being price-gouged by prison phone service providers and their government collaborators.
This month’s cover story explores the extent and depth of this practice in Washington State and the advent of video calling, as prison telecoms devise new means to monetize human contact between prisoners and their families. Prisoners held in Washington county jails and their loved ones continue to pay exorbitant fees for mediocre telecom services. Further, a growing number of jails are banning in-person visits and instead providing fee-based video calling – a trend not just in Washington but across the U.S.
On September 15, 2018, we filed a petition ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Solitary confinement is “worse than any torment of the body” – so said famous British author Charles Dickens. French historian Alexis de Tocqueville, who toured American prisons in 1831, added that solitary “devours the victim incessantly and unmercifully; it does not reform, it kills.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on the constitutionality of “administrative segregation,” a common form of solitary confinement, though in his concurrence to the majority opinion in Davis v. Ayala, 135 S.Ct. 2187 (2015), Justice Anthony Kennedy revealed his revulsion at the long-term use of solitary in correctional facilities. “The human toll wrought by extended terms of isolation long has been understood, and questioned, by writers and commentators,” he wrote. [See: PLN, Nov. 2015, p.28].
“We’re talking about putting someone in a room the size of a parking space,” agreed Robert T. Gonzales, chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Disability Rights. “This is inhumane.”
Yet the use of security housing units and restrictive housing units within U.S. prisons remains widespread, affecting as many as 80,000 to 100,000 prisoners according to a 2015 report by the Arthur Liman Public Interest ...
by Taylor Elizabeth Eldridge, The Marshall Project
Ed. Note: PLN’s August 2018 cover story examined prison food and commissary services. This article looks at prison and jail package services supplied by private vendors – some of which, like Keefe, also provide commissary services.
It’s the holiday season, but many incarcerated Americans won’t get presents directly from home.
To stop drugs and weapons from entering jails and prisons, many corrections agencies bar family members from mailing packages or bringing them during visits. Those who want to send food, clothing and other gifts to incarcerated relatives – at any time of year – often must go through private vendors.
Here’s how it works: Families shop from print and online catalogs supplied by care package companies. Every item is prison- and jail-approved. In some facilities, that can mean no glass or metal containers or no personal hygiene products containing alcohol. Items are often contraband-proof, from sealed food pouches to clear electronics to pocketless sweatpants.
For the holidays, families can choose from seasonal products; think red and green cream-filled Hostess cupcakes and peppermint Twinkies. The Los Angeles County jails’ contract for care packages includes annual “gift packs” that are given to prisoners for ...
by Christopher Zoukis
GEO Group, one of the nation’s largest for-profit prison companies, donated $225,000 to the pro-Trump Super PAC Rebuilding America Now during the 2016 election cycle. Within a few months after President Trump’s inauguration, in April 2017, GEO was awarded a $110 million federal contract to build a 1,000-bed immigration detention facility.
The Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan public interest watchdog organization that monitors elections for violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), recognized the particular stench that accompanies improper political influence. So the group filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), alleging GEO Group had violated the FECA by making donations to the PAC while holding federal contracts – which is prohibited. That was on November 1, 2016. Since then the FEC has utterly failed to act.
Therefore, on January 10, 2018, CLC filed suit against the FEC in federal court. The complaint seeks to require the agency to do its job, which is to enforce the FECA.
CLC’s lawsuit over GEO Group’s PAC donation is straightforward. Federal law prohibits a federal contractor, such as GEO, from “directly or indirectly ... mak[ing] any contribution of money or other thing of value ... to ...
by Paul Wright
Florida leads the nation with over 1 million citizens disenfranchised and unable to vote due to felony convictions. The path to having their voting rights restored is long and difficult, and has been found unconstitutional by a federal judge. This November, Floridians who are able to vote will determine whether convicted felons who have completed their sentences, including parole and probation, will automatically have their voting rights restored. With two glaring exceptions: those convicted of murder or a sex offense. [See: PLN, Sept. 2018, p.14].
The problem with Amendment 4, the voting rights ballot initiative, is that it perpetuates the discrimination and bigotry of disenfranchisement against a subclass of ex-felons – those convicted of murder or sex crimes. All the talk of Amendment 4 being about second chances, redemption and reintegration into the community rings hollow and opportunistic when it excludes certain former prisoners from the franchise. No other state constitution, according to The Sentencing Project, singles out citizens by conviction offense with respect to restoration of voting rights.
Around the country, organizations led by former prisoners have made “All of us or none” a rallying cry against this very type of discrimination which seeks to ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Herman Bell served 46 years behind bars in New York. The 70-year-old was convicted of the 1971 murders of two NYPD officers, and received a sentence of 25 years to life. Denied parole on seven previous occasions, Bell, who long argued he was a political prisoner, was granted parole and released from the Shawangunk Correctional Facility in April 2018.
The reaction to the Parole Board’s decision was swift and severe. New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch said “[i]t should be clear to any reasonable person that no one believes that cold-blooded cop-killers like Herman Bell should ever be released from prison.”
He was wrong, though. Some people do believe that even murderers like Bell should have the possibility of redemption and release. They include the state lawmakers who created the indeterminate sentencing scheme in New York, the judge who sentenced Bell and the two of three Parole Board members who voted to grant his release.
“If rehabilitation is a goal of incarceration, we should applaud the parole board’s decision to release a person whose institutional record warrants it,” stated Lisa Packard, managing attorney for the Office of the Appellate Defender ...
by Dale Chappell
Lincoln County, Oregon agreed to pay $2.85 million to settle a wrongful death suit filed by the family of a 55-year-old mentally ill prisoner who died of dehydration at the county jail.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in 2016, claimed that jailers had violated Bradley Thomas’ civil rights when they were “deliberately indifferent” to his serious medical and psychiatric needs following his arrest on March 23, 2015. Jail staff knew Thomas; he had been hospitalized due to his mental illness while in custody previously. This time was no different. According to intake reports, Thomas was exhibiting signs of severe mental illness, including hearing voices and seeing visions.
Despite recognizing that he had serious mental health problems, jail staff did nothing about it, Thomas’ attorneys alleged. The day after his arrest, Thomas was certified as mentally ill; the next day, a Lincoln County mental health investigator declared him a danger to himself and others, and unable to provide for his basic personal needs. That same day, Thomas was disciplined for “defiance toward staff” and failing to follow “the simple rules” of the jail. At least four other disciplinary reports would follow, for failing to keep his ...
by Derek Gilna
A federal lawsuit that settled in March 2017 resulted in the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) drastically improving conditions of confinement for death row prisoners. Pursuant to the settlement, most of the state’s 120 condemned prisoners were moved from solitary confinement in the Browning Unit at the Eyman prison complex to the Central Unit in Florence, where they can leave their close-custody cells to socialize in day rooms, have communal meals and participate in group recreation.
Not all death row prisoners qualify for the reforms instituted due to the settlement. Those who are mentally ill, engage in violent behavior or have gang affiliations are not eligible, but for the rest the reviews have been uniformly positive. The three women on death row were moved into general population units at the Perryville prison complex.
“They’re all a lot happier,” said Assistant Arizona Attorney General Michael Gottfried, speaking at the Capital Case Oversight Committee, an advisory body to the Arizona Supreme Court.
Around 27 condemned prisoners remain in segregation at the Browning Unit, including those with behavioral problems and new arrivals.
Under the terms of the settlement, death row prisoners “will now be classified for housing based upon ...
by Monte McCoin
On July 11, 2018, Robert Higdon, Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, announced that a $190,000 settlement had been reached with the state’s prison system over its failure to properly document the distribution of prescribed controlled substances at the Central Prison and the North Carolina Correctional Center for Women between 2014 and 2016.
In a press release, Higdon said federal investigators didn’t find evidence of criminal activity, but that it was unclear whether prison medical staff deliberately avoided paperwork to divert the drugs for illegal purposes or legitimately dispensed the medication but failed to properly document doing so.
“While no unlawful use of controlled substances was detected, the substandard recordkeeping provided fertile ground for improper diversion,” the release stated. “The handling of prescription controlled substances inside our prisons poses some unique challenges. And yet given the possibility of illegal diversion to inmates and others, scrupulous recordkeeping and tracking of controlled substances is essential.”
The National Commission on Correctional Health Care issued a position statement in April 2015 that recognized the prevalence of opioid abuse in prisons and jails as the third leading cause of death among prisoners, following ...
by Matthew Clarke
In February 2018, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a former Louisiana jail lieutenant’s conviction for depriving a prisoner of his civil rights under color of state law in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242. Specifically, the ex-jailer had pleaded guilty to failing to intervene while a prisoner was being beaten by other guards. His sentence of 54 months in federal prison and three years of supervised release also was affirmed.
Bret Broussard was a lieutenant at the Iberia Parish Jail in New Iberia, Louisiana when guard Bryon Lasalle beat S.S., a handcuffed and compliant prisoner, with a baton. Broussard was in charge of the narcotics unit, which used the jail’s chapel to assault certain prisoners because there was no video surveillance in that area. He was present during most of the 10-minute beating, only leaving when Lasalle placed one end of a baton or flashlight between his legs and the other end into S.S.’s mouth and forced him to mimic oral sex. [See: PLN, Sept. 2017, p.46].
Broussard’s unit had previously used the chapel to assault at least five other prisoners as punishment for misconduct. They did so after ...
The Kentucky legislature has closed a loophole in a statute that required a victim of domestic violence to pay the cost of an attorney for their incarcerated abuser when seeking a divorce.
Kentucky law requires a person suing a prisoner to cover the cost of their attorney when the prisoner is considered indigent. That legal provision has been applied in divorce cases.
Jeanette McCue’s husband severely abused her. “My husband decided to beat me black and blue,” she told the state Senate Judiciary Committee. “He put a gun to my head and pulled the trigger. Thank God, I’m here.” He missed, she said, because he was too drunk to aim.
Her husband was later sentenced to 10 years in prison. “In the process of trying to get divorced, I was told, ‘Ma’am, you’re going to have to pay for his attorney,’” McCue stated. “That was a smack in the face.”
It also was a financial hardship, as her husband had cleaned out their bank account. McCue’s lawyer, Cassie Chambers with the Kentucky Equal Justice Center, helped McCue file for divorce and came across two other cases in which women suffered domestic violence and were forced to ...
In December 2017, a Florida attorney was caught in a private visitation room at the Pinellas County jail with his pants down as he prepared to engage in a sexual act with a female pretrial detainee. According to jail officials, lawyer Andrew B. Spark, 54, was filming the act for a pornographic video titled “Girls in Jail.”
“He duped the system because he came in there representing himself as a lawyer,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “There’s something sacrosanct about that lawyer-client relationship, and that’s why we give great consideration and frankly, deference to it.”
According to the sheriff, Spark engaged in sex acts at the jail while visiting two prisoners under the guise of attorney meetings. The women, ages 25 and 28, were known to Spark before their arrests. He met the 28-year-old through online prostitution ads before she was jailed on drug charges, and met the 25-year-old at a porn convention.
Between June and December 2017, Spark visited the 28-year-old detainee at least six times. He filmed both women in the private attorney visitation room, having them narrate sexual fantasies. Spark stood in front of the door to block a small window as the ...
by Derek Gilna
Last year, Yancy L. Douglas, 43, and Paris Lapriest Powell, 44, former death row prisoners in Oklahoma, accepted a total $3.15 million settlement in their federal civil rights lawsuits brought against their prosecutor and the State of Oklahoma. Douglas and Powell were exonerated, and their wrongful murder convictions set aside by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2009.
Both men were convicted in separate trials of the drive-by shooting of 14-year-old Shauna Farrow on June 24, 1993, in Oklahoma City. The Tenth Circuit found that the state prosecutor, Brad Miller, had committed misconduct after knowingly using false testimony to obtain the convictions.
Miller was suspended from the practice of law for 180 days by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in 2013, for “reprehensible” conduct in connection with that case – a modest punishment considering the more than two decades Douglas and Powell spent in prison for a crime they did not commit. One of the Supreme Court justices said Miller’s actions in the wrongful conviction cases “take us into the dark, unseen, ugly, shocking nightmare vision of a prosecutor who loves victory more than he loves justice.”
Miller allegedly persuaded witness Derrick Smith, who was ...
A federal jury awarded $15,000 to a North Carolina prisoner who claimed a prison employee sexually abused him and “seduced” him to sell drugs and other contraband.
Prisoner Timothy R. King’s civil rights complaint alleged that between September 2010 and July 2011, he and prison behavioral health specialist Chariesse Boyd had sex dozens of times at the Maury Correctional Institution. Their relationship began after King enrolled in parenting and conflict-resolution classes in April 2010. The pair would spend time alone before and after class.
It was then that “Boyd manage[d] to persuade and seduce King to help Boyd make money,” he stated in his lawsuit. “She said she owed the IRS and would help King with his daughter if he helped sell and distribute” drugs, tobacco, cellphones, SIM cards, prescription pills, alcohol and other contraband.
The money was sent to Boyd through money-transfer services or her associates; King said the contraband scheme generated at least $20,000 over a 16-month period. When he said he would no longer traffic in contraband, Boyd allegedly obtained a new prisoner lover who put a “hit” out on King. Consequently, he was attacked and then filed Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA ...
by Steve Horn
When Ron Freeman was released from prison in 1998, he returned to doing the two things he enjoyed the most: cooking and eating. He decided, after being incarcerated for nearly three years for drug possession at the Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, California, to put those passions to use and open a food cart in the Watts area of Los Angeles.
Starting with hot dogs and other popular street foods, he later founded a new business focused on the production of ramen instant noodles. Freeman learned from his time behind bars that ramen is one of the most popular items purchased from prison and jail commissaries.
“Ramen is a lifesaver,” he said in an interview with Prison Legal News. “My time in there would’ve been so much harder if I ... couldn’t eat the ramen.”
High Sodium Content
Ramen noodles have long had a reputation as a cheap, albeit fairly unhealthy, food for people without many financial resources. Freeman – who now lives in Victorville, California – has produced several new varieties with 40 percent less sodium than other brands.
Competitor noodle companies, mainly Maruchan and Nissin, currently sell the majority of ramen in institutional ...
by R. Bailey
A class-action complaint against the Central Virginia Regional Jail (CVRJ) has ended with a $725,000 settlement. The lawsuit alleged that jail staff violated detainees’ Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and subjected them to excessive pain and suffering by refusing to enforce written policies and placing cost savings above the provision of proper medical care.
Sherry Lynn Thornhill filed the complaint, which sought $10 million in damages, following the August 9, 2014 death of her son, Shawn Christopher Berry, 37. Berry had been arrested two days earlier on charges of contracting without a license, financial exploitation, possession of heroin with intent to distribute and failure to appear.
Berry and his girlfriend both advised CVRJ staff of his daily use of heroin and consumption of a fifth of liquor. He also disclosed that he had a history of withdrawal that led to a hospital stay during his last incarceration.
Despite those disclosures, when Berry began going through withdrawal and started vomiting and experiencing stomach pain during his first day at the jail, CVRJ staff refused to follow written policies and procedures for medical treatment.
The policies required staff to conduct a Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment (CIWA), contact a ...
by Steve Horn
The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), which publishes Prison Legal News, filed a federal lawsuit on April 16, 2018 against the San Miguel County Detention Center in Las Vegas, New Mexico for censoring PLN publications in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
Beginning in February 2016, according to the complaint, the jail began rejecting PLN’s monthly publication and other materials sent to prisoners. In total, 39 pieces of mail sent to the San Miguel County Detention Center were returned to HRDC, including 16 issues of PLN and 19 softcover books.
HRDC argued that, under the First Amendment, such censorship constituted a violation of its right to free speech. It was also a violation of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment because the jail provided no notice to HRDC before returning the publications with labels saying “Refused.”
The complaint sought damages for claims that included “the suppression of HRDC’s speech; the impediment of HRDC’s ability to disseminate its political message; frustration of HRDC’s nonprofit organizational mission; the loss of potential subscribers and customers; and the inability to recruit new subscribers and supporters, among other damages.”
HRDC requested a jury trial on its claims against the ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Bonita Bourke is a 56-year-old attorney and former president of the Warren County, New Jersey Bar Association. She regularly visits clients at the Sussex County jail, and as with all visitors to the facility, must pass through security before entering. One day in August 2014, Bourke said a guard took the screening procedure too far: she was forced to spread her legs while the jailer thrust a metal detecting wand under her skirt.
During the humiliating public search, Sussex County jail guard Long allegedly used his wand to lift Bourke’s skirt so he could move the device further up towards her crotch. Long told her to “spread your legs.” Bourke said she became visibly upset, but Long continued the search. He later apologized as Bourke left the facility, but she claimed she became “anxious and disoriented” and “vomited on the side of the road” while driving back to her office.
Several months after the incident, Bourke filed suit against Long, the sheriff and the county; she argued that the search amounted to an illegal assault and battery, and that Long’s conduct constituted sexual harassment and discrimination. She also said the county and sheriff were negligent and ...
Overcrowding in Kentucky’s corrections system has spurred renewed interest in private prisons. Despite abandoning privately-operated prisons five years ago due to a number of problems, including sexual abuse of female prisoners by private prison guards, Kentucky officials have returned to privatization to relieve the state’s overcrowded prisons.
“This is simply a move we are forced to make,” said Kentucky Justice Secretary John Tilley. “We hope this is a release valve.”
The state’s prison population exploded from 22,089 in November 2015 to 24,367 as of February 2018. The opioid epidemic has been blamed for the increase.
Kentucky turned to CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, for more prison beds. The company owns facilities in Lee, Floyd and Marion counties.
At one time, Kentucky housed prisoners at all three facilities; it pulled out of Lee County in 2010, Floyd County in 2012 and Marion County in 2013.
Governor Steve Beshear had ordered female prisoners removed from the CoreCivic-operated Otter Creek Correctional Center in 2010 following reports that guards were sexually abusing prisoners. [See: PLN, Sept. 2011, p.16; Oct. 2009, p.40]. The Lee Adjustment Center was the site of a 2004 riot.
For state officials, using the ...
by Matthew Clarke
On March 7, 2018, a Colorado federal jury awarded $6 million to a prisoner in a lawsuit over his mistreatment by a guard while he was experiencing an epileptic seizure.
Jayson M. Oslund, a Colorado state prisoner, had a history of epilepsy and was taking anti-seizure medication before he entered the prison system. Despite being aware of his condition due to a previous incarceration, the medical provider at the Sterling Correctional Facility refused to prescribe him anti-seizure drugs. About 30 months later, Oslund suffered a grand mal seizure, fell, struck his head and was rendered unconscious. At the prison’s infirmary, he received anti-seizure medication and five stitches for a head wound, then was sent back to his housing unit.
A few hours later, Oslund suffered a second seizure. Guards were summoned and, while Oslund was convulsing, incoherent and unaware of his surroundings, Officer Mullen allegedly violently slammed Oslund back-first into the cell wall, causing his head to strike the wall, then forcibly took him down, landing on top of him and shouting “stop resisting” while Oslund’s head struck the concrete floor. When Oslund regained consciousness, he was in a segregation cell and unable to balance himself sufficiently ...
by Monte McCoin
William F. Lawrence, a former Utah Department of Corrections guard, apparently thought that hiding out in a tropical paradise would spare him from a prison term after he pleaded guilty to forcible sexual abuse in December 2007. Prior to his sentencing hearing, Lawrence fled Utah and resettled on Kauai, Hawaii, where he assumed the identity of “John Phillips” and lived quietly for over a decade.
After a cold case investigation put the U.S. Marshals on Lawrence’s trail, authorities were able to apprehend him as he lunched at a McDonald’s on the island on November 27, 2017. He was jailed in Hawaii pending extradition to Utah.
Both Lawrence’s initial crime and his subsequent flight from justice were influenced by his law enforcement background; he was arrested for using his badge to intimidate and coerce a woman to perform sexual acts with him. According to Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Derryl Spencer, “As a former law enforcement officer, Lawrence knew the strategies used to track down fugitives. He was able to elude law enforcement for years – until now.”
On April 23, 2018, Lawrence faced a judge in a Utah courtroom and was sentenced to zero to ...
by Steve Horn
It’s a study widely taught in high school and college psychology textbooks as a prime example of how, as Lord Acton put it, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It’s also a study whose findings may very well have been falsely represented.
The study – the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment carried out by Prof. Philip Zimbardo – had already been called into question over the years, yet maintained legitimacy in mainstream psychology as a landmark piece of research. Zimbardo’s study revolved around a mock prison created at Stanford University, with 24 students randomly assigned the roles of “guards” or “prisoners.” The purpose was to observe the psychological effects on the participants; expected to last two weeks, the experiment ended after just six days due to the apparent trauma that some of the students experienced.
The conclusion, both at the time the study was conducted and as it was subsequently taught for decades, was that the subjects of the mock prison experiment quickly embraced their assigned roles, with the “guards” becoming authoritarian and sadistic, and the “prisoners” accepting the abusive authority of the guards and experiencing psychological trauma. The study was funded by the ...
by Matt Clarke
On April 30, 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held it was error to apply a subjective standard to a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim alleging inadequate medical care that resulted in the death of a pretrial detainee.
Matthew Shawn Gordon was arrested on drug charges and booked into jail in Orange County, California in September 2013. During the intake process, jail nurse Debra Finley used an assessment form designed for alcohol withdrawal (CIWA) instead of another form designed for opiate withdrawal (COWS). Gordon told her he had a 3 gram-per-day heroin habit. She consulted with a doctor, who directed that Gordon receive Tylenol, Zofran and Atarax for four days, but did not order him placed in the jail’s medical observation unit.
Gordon was instead housed in the general population. About 14 hours later, fellow prisoners discovered him unresponsive in his bunk; he was declared dead at a hospital. A jailer admitted that although he had performed three “wellness checks” on Gordon after he was placed in the general population unit, it was impossible to see whether he was alive or breathing from the distance and vantage point where the checks were done.
by Kevin Bliss
A civil rights complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee on behalf of a pretrial detainee who was severely beaten by his cellmate at the Rutherford County jail, was dismissed in May 2018 following a settlement by the county defendants.
Robert Johnson was in jail awaiting trial on misdemeanor charges. Due to overcrowding and understaffing he was celled with Guy Mitchell, Jr., a mentally ill convicted felon serving four years for theft and aggravated assault.
Mitchell’s mother, Carrie Harrell, had contacted the director of Rudd Medical Services, PLC, Ken Tucker, to warn him of Mitchell’s mental disorder and propensity for violence. Rudd was the contracted medical provider at the Rutherford County jail. Harrell requested on multiple occasions that Mitchell be transferred to a special needs unit for his own safety. Tucker responded that he could do nothing until Mitchell proved himself a threat.
On December 20, 2014, Mitchell began screaming that he was going to kill Johnson. Guards Gregory McNeil and Danny Cobb took several minutes to respond. In that brief time, Mitchell reportedly assaulted Johnson and left him lying unresponsive on the cell floor; he was later charged with ...
by Christopher Zoukis
The New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a male-to-female transgender prisoner who was raped while housed in a men’s prison. The February 5, 2018 settlement included no admission of liability.
LeslieAnn Manning is a 51-year-old transgender woman. She was imprisoned at the New York State Sullivan Correctional Facility in 2013 when she was brutally raped by a fellow prisoner while working on a job detail. Manning, who suffers from myriad health problems, did not immediately report the assault. She did, however, save the clothes she was wearing.
After alerting prison officials of the incident, the clothes were tested and Manning was taken to a hospital. Medical professionals confirmed she had been raped and collected DNA. The perpetrator was identified and disciplined by prison officials while Manning was placed in “protective custody” (segregation), allegedly for her safety.
In January 2015, Manning filed suit in federal court. She alleged that Superintendent Patrick Griffin, Captain Stephen Urbanski, educator Peter Cohen, Sergeant Brian Barlow and guard Daniel Ladenhauf were deliberately indifferent to her safety and subjected her to cruel and unusual punishment. According to her complaint, prison ...
by Matthew Clarke
Of the 26,000 guards who work in Texas’ 104 state prisons, 28 percent left their jobs in 2017 – an increase from the prior year’s 22.8 percent turnover rate and “the highest in recent memory,” according to Bryan Collier, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). The high rate of staff attrition was accompanied by an inability to fill 3,930 open guard positions, resulting in a peak vacancy rate of 15.22 percent in April 2018.
Statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) cast the TDCJ’s staffing problems in stark relief. Nationally, the unemployment rate was 3.8 percent in May 2018, while the job turnover rate was 4 percent. But some state prisons saw turnover rates as high as 59 percent.
The TDCJ breaks down its employment data by counties, not by facilities, and three counties had turnover rates exceeding 50 percent. Two were in the oil-rich Permian Basin near the New Mexico border, where an oil and fracking boom that began in 2012 has been competing for workers. Even as the boom abated in 2017, alternative employment opportunities – like a new cheese factory near ...
by Monte McCoin
In January 2018, an unnamed prisoner at Western Australia’s Bandyup Women’s Prison was forced to give birth alone and crying for help while guards struggled to unlock the door to her cell.
Professor Neil Morgan, the Independent Inspector of Custodial Services, said, “This was potentially a dangerous situation of course with the birth, something could have happened to the mother or to the child.” He added, “This would have been highly traumatic for the woman herself, but it also would have been traumatic for those staff who wanted to render assistance and were unable to do so in the time they would have liked.”
Prison advocate Dorothy Goulding was angered that the prisoner, who was 36 weeks pregnant at the time of the delivery, went into labor without pain relief. “The dangerous situation of this can’t be too strongly emphasized, it could have had dire consequences,” she said. “The whole notion of someone giving birth alone in a cell is just appalling, it’s such huge risk for mother and child.”
A spokesman for the Western Australian Justice Department said the birth was “unexpected” and “extremely rare.” He stated, “Pregnant women are medically ...
by Steve Horn
In the midst of Ramadan, the holiest month of the year for those of the Islamic faith, the Glades County Detention Center in Florida implemented a policy that banned some Muslim prisoners from participating in the religious observance.
One of the most fundamental parts of Ramadan is fasting from sunrise to sunset, which Glades County did not allow some immigrant detainees to do during the month-long period from May 15 to June 14, 2018. It was a story first reported by The Intercept, an investigative news outlet. The Detention Center also doubles as a jail for the county.
The Muslim detainees came by way of Somalia, seeking asylum in Senegal and – for a yet to be explained reason – somehow ended up in the United States. A war-torn nation, Somalia has been mired in civil conflict for decades and the detainees were reportedly brought to the U.S. via what was described as a modern-day “slave ship,” shackled on an airplane chartered by the Air Operations division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The United States has actively intervened in Somalia, with covert special operations troops on the ground running a secret Central Intelligence interrogation ...
by Christopher Zoukis
The Rhode Island Supreme Court, citing an antiquated law that declares life-sentenced state prisoners legally “dead in all respects,” affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of a prisoner’s negligence claim for damages suffered when he was attacked by another prisoner.
Dana Gallop was convicted of first-degree murder and multiple other crimes stemming from the shooting death of Anthony Parrish in December 2008. He received two life sentences plus 45 years.
Prior to Gallop’s conviction, while he was being held as a pretrial detainee at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI), he was attacked by fellow detainee Ian Rosado in April 2010. According to a negligence suit later filed by Gallop, jail guard Matthew Galligan knew of Rosado’s plans and abandoned his post for 18 minutes so the attack would not be witnessed or interrupted. Gallop was left with lacerations and permanent scarring to his face.
The day before the trial in Gallop’s lawsuit, the superior court judge sua sponte raised the issue of Rhode Island’s “civil death” statute, G.L. 1956 § 13-6-1, and the defendants moved to dismiss on those grounds. The court granted the motion and Gallop appealed to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, which upheld ...
by Kevin Bliss
On March 28, 2018, a federal district court entered a summary judgment order that held Humanism was in fact a faith group that must be recognized by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety (DPS).
Kwame Jamal Teague, incarcerated at the Lanesboro Correctional Institution, continually asked prison officials to recognize Humanism as an approved faith. Humanism is a belief system that focuses on the value and importance of humans, and rational ways to solve problems, rather than on divine beings or spiritual forces.
The DPS maintains a list of approved faith groups and provides resources, time and space for each to worship in state prisons. The agency did not have a required number of practitioners, written standards or other requirements for recognition of faith groups; rather, acceptance of a particular faith appeared to be completely subjective.
DPS staff instructed Teague to fill out forms, answer questions, provide a contact person and supply other information as needed, yet maintained throughout that process that Humanism was not an acceptable faith.
Teague, represented by the American Humanist Association (AHA), filed a civil rights action seeking a declaratory judgment, permanent injunction, nominal fees and attorneys’ fees and costs. He sought to ...
by Dale Chappell
The Union Parish Detention Center (UPDC) in Farmerville, Louisiana reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in March 2018 to stop discriminating against HIV-positive prisoners, plus the parish agreed to pay $27,500 to one detainee held in segregation for six months due to his HIV status.
UPDC staff confined the prisoner with HIV to his cell and posted signs on his door while jail employees deliberately told other prisoners about his HIV status, exposing him to harassment and potential harm, the DOJ found. The Department of Justice is authorized to investigate complaints under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131-12134. Those who are HIV-positive are considered to have a disability under the ADA.
The agreement requires the UPDC to stop segregating prisoners with HIV and to afford them the same benefits as other prisoners, including equal housing, recreation, commissary services and access to dayrooms, televisions and phones. The UPDC is also required to assign an ADA coordinator and to report its enforcement of the agreement to the DOJ. Further, all UPDC staff must receive annual HIV training.
by Ed Lyon
William Gerald Fitzgerald was a pre-trial detainee at a jail in Harris County, Texas when, on May 18, 2013, he was attacked from behind by jailer Myron Nelson. Nelson struck Fitzgerald in the right eye hard enough to dislodge the lens, tearing both the iris and cornea, and requiring partial removal of the iris and 12 stitches to repair the cornea. Nelson reportedly assaulted Fitzgerald because he had slammed his cell door.
Doctors at Houston’s Ben Taub Hospital and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s John Sealy Hospital in Galveston agreed that Fitzgerald would never see with his right eye again. The injuries caused by Nelson left Fitzgerald with a permanently dilated pupil with an attendant acute painful light sensitivity and loss of vision.
Fitzgerald filed a pro se 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint in federal court against the Harris County Sheriff, Nelson and other defendants, alleging excessive use of force.
On August 15, 2017, the court dismissed all the defendants except Nelson, who never filed a response to the suit despite being served by the U.S. Marshals Service. Two months later, Fitzgerald moved for default judgment against Nelson, who again failed to respond ...
by Amanda Aronczyk & Katie Rose Quandt, WNYC Radio
In 2005, Francis Brauner was a quarter of the way through a 20-year prison sentence at the Dixon Correctional Institute in Louisiana, when he had an accident.
Brauner was imprisoned for a rape conviction, which he maintains was wrongful and part of a setup by a corrupt judge.
His sentence involved hard labor, and one day he was out in the fields, cutting the grass and he bent over to pick something up from the ground. He felt a sharp pain in his back.
“There’s no words to describe how bad the pain was, really,” he says. A few days later, it got worse. “It felt like I was hit by a bolt of lightning or something, I mean the pain just shot from my head to my toes.”
Years before, he’d been in a car accident, so it was not the first time he had had back trouble. But this time, he could barely stand up.
Prison authorities rushed him to Charity Hospital in New Orleans, but then Hurricane Katrina struck. In the chaos, Brauner found himself re-routed to the Louisiana State Penitentiary, better known as ...
by Monte McCoin
Peter Borenstein graduated from law school in 2014 with a burning passion for criminal justice reform ignited by his 20-year pen-pal relationship with a federal prisoner who had been a client of his father’s. He began volunteering at Francisco Homes, a halfway house, as a legal consultant to former prisoners who needed help with housing and employment issues, public assistance benefits or expunging their criminal records.
After a few months of working at the facility, Borenstein discovered a common theme among his clients: while they were imprisoned, someone they trusted had defrauded them by taking their money or property.
Following an initial success in the 2016 case of ex-prisoner Rodney Ficklin, who successfully sued his brother, Eddie, for transferring real estate out of Rodney’s name while he was incarcerated, Borenstein quickly carved a niche for himself representing people who were defrauded in a similar manner. He is now considered “the guy prisoners call when they’re betrayed from the outside.”
Borenstein said in a January 28, 2018 collaborative interview with The Marshall Project and Vice.com, “You still have property rights in prison. You’re paying your debt to society with your liberty.” He added that long-term ...
by Derek Gilna
On June 13, 2018, attorneys representing mentally ill defendants held in Colorado jails moved to reopen a 2012 class-action settlement in which the state agreed to cease “warehousing” mentally ill prisoners and provide them with timely evaluations. According to plaintiffs’ counsel, “Under the terms of [that] settlement agreement, the Department [of Human Services] is required to admit a pretrial detainee to the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo (“CMHIP”) within 28 days of ... admission date for an evaluation or restorative treatment and to maintain a monthly average of no more than 24 days for all pretrial detainees to be admitted to CMHIP for evaluation or treatment.”
However, over the next three years not only did the state of Colorado fail to comply with the terms of the settlement, it apparently also tried to conceal its non-compliance. “[T]he State provided Disability Law Colorado with incorrect data making it appear the State was in full compliance with the deadlines, but Disability Law Colorado uncovered that almost 80 individuals were waiting three times as long – once again in a crisis situation.”
In an attempt to remedy this failure by the state, the parties agreed in ...
by Derek Gilna
In April 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) announced a settlement in a federal class-action suit filed against the city of Corinth, Mississippi that accused the municipality and its chief Municipal Court judge, John C. Ross, of running a “modern day debtor’s prison” that discriminated against poor defendants. The comprehensive settlement effectively ends the practice of forcing indigent defendants to sit in jail due to their inability to pay fines or cash bail for minor, non-violent offenses.
According to the lawsuit, under the challenged Municipal Court practices, “A person arrested for a misdemeanor or municipal charge will not be released from jail unless they pay a monetary amount predetermined by a bail schedule and without any consideration of ability to pay. The City does not bring an arrestee before a judicial officer for an initial appearance until the next scheduled court date, which is only held once per week.”
“Thus,” the complaint continued, “[w]hen court does occur and persons are adjudicated and given a fine, they are required to pay the entire fine or make a down-payment, and if they cannot do so they again are jailed, sitting out their fine at ...
by Monte McCoin
Former FCC Coleman guard Albert Larry Harris, Jr., 27, was sentenced to 24 months in prison on February 15, 2018 after Senior U.S. District Court Judge James D. Whittemore accepted his guilty plea for taking a bribe as a public official.
According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Ocala, Florida, Harris provided tobacco and drugs to prisoners in exchange for large cash payments. He was arrested after he accepted a $5,000 bribe and 200 strips of Suboxone, a medication prescribed for opiate addiction and withdrawal, as well as for pain.
The investigation, conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General and the FBI, was initiated after three prisoners reported Harris’ misconduct. One of the prisoners set up a “drug deal” between Harris and an undercover agent; another reported that Harris had approached him in an attempt to locate a cocaine dealer. Authorities also traced money orders that Harris received in contraband transactions with other prisoners.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert E. Bodnar, Jr.
Sources: www.ocalapost.com, www.justice.gov
by Matt Clarke
In April 2018, Saunders County, Nebraska and Advanced Correctional Healthcare, Inc. (ACH) agreed to pay $10,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a former jail prisoner who was denied medication for a brain tumor.
When John Gillock, 43, was arrested on a misdemeanor theft charge, he told Saunders County jail officials that he was suffering from diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and a tumor near his brain stem. He reportedly arrived at the jail with two weeks’ worth of medication, including bromocriptine, which was being used to shrink the brain tumor. However, he never received bromocriptine during his 51-day stay at the jail despite repeated requests. He was subsequently transferred to the Washington County jail, where he received the medication.
Gillock filed a federal civil rights suit against Saunders County and ACH, its private jail health care provider. They claimed ACH staff were unable to confirm that Gillock had a brain tumor. Yet the office of the physician treating Gillock’s tumor had a record confirming the diagnosis that was sent to jail medical staff a week after Gillock arrived at the facility.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Kopf had already ruled that some of Gillock’s ...
by Ed Lyon
Kristine Sink began working as a guard at the old Iowa State Penitentiary in 2003. She was initially assigned to a Clinical Care Unit that housed mentally ill prisoners, sex offenders and prisoners with behavioral problems.
Sink noticed that offenders in the Clinical Care Unit often watched movies that she felt displayed “graphic sexual conduct.” She complained to her supervisors about prisoners making lewd comments to her and masturbating in her presence, supposedly incited by viewing the inappropriate movies. She began a reform campaign that by early 2007 resulted in a movie review committee to screen films before prisoners could watch them.
Still, the same type of movies continued to be shown, so Sink resumed filing workplace complaints until a statewide ban on all NC-17 movies was implemented and R-rated movies had to be reviewed by a warden before they could be shown.
Prisoners blamed Sink for the animated children’s movies and TV programs they were given to watch. Many threatened her openly. One prisoner threw urine on her and another sent her notes telling her he was going to rape her. When she complained to a supervisor about the threats, he allegedly told her she ...
Alaska: On January 17, 2018, a 43-man riot flared and quickly dissipated on the yard of the maximum-security Spring Creek Correctional Center, leaving five prisoners with injuries and resulting in a facility-wide lockdown. Alaska Department of Corrections spokeswoman Megan Edge said guards deployed pepper spray when the prisoners became “combative toward each other.” The fight lasted less than three minutes and was investigated as being gang-related, she added. “DOC will not be releasing the investigation’s results, however more information about this investigation will come out through the [district attorney’s] office as people are charged with crimes related to this riot,” Edge said.
Arizona: Attorneys Don Cartier and Mark Willimann filed a lawsuit against Governor Doug Ducey, Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan and prison warden Kevin Curran on January 16, 2018 on behalf of the families of 19 first- and third-grade schoolchildren who were injured in February 2017 when CS gas, also known as tear gas, drifted away from a training exercise at the ASPC-Florence prison complex while the children played outside at the nearby Florence Elementary School. One child “experienced side effects so severe, that paramedics provided heightened monitoring in order to prevent heart failure,” ...