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Prison Legal News: November, 2018

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Volume 29, Number 11

In this issue:

  1. On the Inside: The Chaos of Arizona Prison Health Care (p 1)
  2. From the Editor (p 8)
  3. Arkansas: $21,000 Settlement in Jail Release Debit Card Class-Action Suit (p 9)
  4. Justice Sotomayor Slams Solitary Confinement, but Supreme Court Declines to Accept Colorado Solitary Case (p 10)
  5. Podcast Produced by Wisconsin Prisoner Tackles Criminal Justice Topics (p 10)
  6. Public Outcry Forces Florida DOC to Back Down on Limits to In-Person Visitation (p 12)
  7. Washington: Jail Detainee Obtains $1 Million Settlement for Spinal Injury (p 14)
  8. Death Sentences and Executions Ebbing in the “Capital of Capital Punishment” (p 15)
  9. Denver Pays $100,000 to Settle DOJ Suit Over Failure to Accommodate Diabetic Deputy (p 16)
  10. Exonerated Prisoner Invests Portion of $20 Million Settlement to Start Barber School (p 17)
  11. HRDC Sues Oklahoma County Jail for Censoring Books (p 18)
  12. Federal District Court Holds Ohio Prison Cannot Cut Rastafarian Prisoner’s Hair (p 18)
  13. Contraband Found in Prisoner’s Rectum Supports Conviction (p 19)
  14. Alaska Supreme Court Reverses Disciplinary Case Where Prisoner Not Allowed to Call Witnesses (p 20)
  15. California Muslim Prisoner Defeats Summary Judgment Order in Mixed Appellate Ruling (p 21)
  16. CCS Seeks to Hide Internal Review in Jail Detainee’s Death; $180,000 Settlement (p 22)
  17. Aramark Gets Pennsylvania DOC Food Procurement Contract (p 23)
  18. Why Prison Reform is Not Enough to Fix the U.S. Criminal Justice System (p 24)
  19. The Secret World of Missouri DOC Internal Death Investigations (p 26)
  20. California Prisoners Seek to Enforce Settlement Provisions in Ashker Litigation (p 28)
  21. Ninth Circuit: Prisoner’s Disciplinary Appeal Exhausted Claim of Having to Work on Religious Holiday (p 28)
  22. Fighting the Fees that Force Prisoners to Pay for Their Incarceration (p 30)
  23. Fourth Circuit: Failure to Transfer Mentally Ill Prisoner to Hospital Not Actionable (p 32)
  24. Texas Prison Officials Demoted, Fired after Disciplinary Quota System and Planted Contraband Exposed (p 34)
  25. $7 Million Settlement for Pennsylvania Prisoner’s Suicide at Private Prison (p 36)
  26. States Implementing New Technology to Fight Contraband Smuggling Via Drone (p 36)
  27. Arkansas DOC Says Water is Safe, but Most Tests Not Conducted in Housing Units (p 38)
  28. Maricopa County, Phoenix Settle Lawsuit Over Mentally Ill Prisoner’s Death for $7.25 Million (p 38)
  29. Magistrate Judge Must Have Jurisdiction Prior to Entering Final Judgment (p 39)
  30. More Legal Cases Involving Transgender Prisoners in Multiple States (p 40)
  31. #MeToo Movement, Misconduct Claims Impact Federal and State Judges (p 42)
  32. Litigation Surrounding Radon Exposure at Connecticut Prison Moves Forward (p 45)
  33. San Diego County Targets Reporter Who Exposed Sky-High Jail Death Rate (p 46)
  34. Mississippi: Former Jailer Acquitted of Criminal Charges in Prisoner’s Death (p 46)
  35. Prisoner Can Face Discipline Yet Still Sue Guard for Excessive Force Under Heck (p 47)
  36. Over-Incarceration a Worldwide Problem, Report Finds (p 48)
  37. BOP’s Violation of Alcohol Policy Ends in Expungement, Reversal of Disciplinary Sanctions (p 48)
  38. Pennsylvania: Allegheny County Jail Settles Sexual Assault Claim for $32,000 (p 50)
  39. Dog-Sniff Search Policy Allowed Under Massachusetts Law, but APA Procedures Required (p 50)
  40. Oklahoma County Pays $150,000 to Settle Suit Over Jail Suicide (p 51)
  41. Defense Investigator Jailed for Initially Refusing to Testify in Death Penalty Case (p 52)
  42. Louisiana Sex Offender Restrictions, Harsh Laws Prolong Prison Sentences (p 52)
  43. Class-Action Status Granted in Civil Rights Suit Over Disenfranchised Indiana Jail Prisoners (p 53)
  44. New York’s Prison-to-Shelter Pipeline is Poor Option for Parolees (p 54)
  45. Deductions from Pennsylvania Prisoner’s Trust Account Require Notice (p 55)
  46. Female Texas Prison Guards Allege Sexual Harassment, Abuse, Discrimination (p 56)
  47. Surprise Shutdown of Maine Prison Leads to Controversy, Court Order (p 57)
  48. Polls Show People Favor Rehabilitation over Incarceration (p 58)
  49. Maryland Adopts Prison Mailbox Rule for Post-Conviction Petitions (p 59)
  50. Ohio Jail Detainee Receives $500,000 Settlement for Assault by Guard (p 59)
  51. New Mexico Prisoners Suffer and Die Under Privatized Health Care (p 60)
  52. $7,500 Settlement in Pennsylvania Prisoner’s Suicide (p 62)
  53. News in Brief (p 62)

On the Inside: The Chaos of Arizona Prison Health Care

by Jimmy Jenkins,

The Arizona Department of Corrections contracts with privately owned correctional health care company Corizon Health to oversee all medical, mental and dental care at 10 state prisons. However, that care has come under scrutiny in federal court.

In 2015, prisoners settled a lawsuit with Arizona over poor health care conditions in state prisons. More than two years later, Arizona and its provider have failed to meet the more than 100 stipulations agreed to in the settlement and a federal judge is threatening to fine the state millions of dollars. [See note at the end of this article; the district court imposed $1.4 million in fines in June 2018 as part of a contempt ruling]. Prisoners have testified in the settlement process to long wait times for medicine, delayed chronic disease care and a lack of access to specialists. The voices in this series confirm those allegations and more, recounting their experiences with the Arizona prison health care system.

Lucinda Jordan hadn’t talked to her father, Walter Jordan, for several years. He was serving time in an Arizona prison and they had lost touch. Then, one day in August 2017, the phone rang.

“He ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

For the past 28 years, Prison Legal News has reported on prison and jail medical care that ranges from abysmal to the barbaric. With the possible exception of California, whose prison system’s health care is under federal receivership, medical and mental health treatment for prisoners throughout the U.S. is universally terrible.

When the Arizona Department of Corrections was sued over poor medical care, the litigation was seen as long overdue. After that case settled it remained to be seen what, if any, commitment state officials had to actually improving health care for prisoners. As this month’s cover story indicates, the answer is not much. Despite well-documented evidence that privatized prison and jail medical care does nothing more than bilk taxpayers and kill prisoners through neglect and deliberate indifference, governmental infatuation with privatization continues.

It does not appear to be any surprise that the Arizona DOC and its medical contractor, Corizon Health, are unwilling to provide minimally adequate health care, with the latter being more focused on enriching its corporate owners. The privatization model is simple: get as much money from taxpayers as possible and deliver as little as possible in return.

Alas, in the medical context ...

Arkansas: $21,000 Settlement in Jail Release Debit Card Class-Action Suit

by Derek Gilna

A federal class-action complaint filed against the Benton County, Arkansas Sheriff’s Office and Keefe Commissary company, over the practice of issuing fee-laden debit cards to prisoners containing their release funds, has settled for just over $21,000 plus attorney fees and incentive awards.

Arrestees processed into the jail were required to deposit any money they had on them with jail staff. Between May 2012 and August 2013, when prisoners were released, instead of receiving cash or checks they were given debit cards containing their release funds.

But when they tried to use the cards, provided to the county by Keefe Commissary, they discovered they were subject to various fees that reduced the amount of money they could access.

According to Benton County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Shannon Jenkins, “So the debit cards seemed like a really good idea, because we weren’t keeping a lot of cash on hand that belongs to the inmates here. It seemed reasonable to take that money, put that into a bank account holding that money and then issuing a debit card upon their release.” However, she noted, “Unfortunately, we found that there [were] additional fees being processed when they were using ...

Justice Sotomayor Slams Solitary Confinement, but Supreme Court Declines to Accept Colorado Solitary Case

by Derek Gilna

The U.S. Supreme Court receives thousands of petitions for writ of certiorari from federal appellate rulings each term and denies the vast majority of those applications, generally with a one-sentence rejection.

However, the Court’s October 9, 2018 order denying the petitions of Colorado state prisoners Jonathan Apodaca, Donnie Lowe and Joshua Vigil, who challenged the Colorado DOC’s solitary confinement practices, was accompanied by a withering concurrence by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

“A punishment need not leave scars to be cruel and unusual...,” Justice Sotomayor wrote, adding, “Courts and corrections officials must accordingly remain alert to the clear constitutional problems raised by keeping prisoners like Apodaca, Vigil, and Lowe in ‘near-total isolation’ from the living world ... in what comes perilously close to a penal tomb.” (citation omitted).

The consolidated cases arose from a now-discontinued practice in the Colorado DOC where prisoners held in solitary confinement were allowed just one hour of exercise a day, five days a week in a 90-square-foot room containing only a chin-up bar. That constituted their entire out-of-cell recreation for periods ranging from 11 to 25 months.

Apodaca, Vigil and Lowe filed suit in federal court under 42 U.S.C. § ...

Podcast Produced by Wisconsin Prisoner Tackles Criminal Justice Topics

by Steve Horn

A Wisconsin state prisoner is leading the way in getting a new podcast out to the public that covers issues faced by people behind bars. Podcasts are radio-style audio series that can be downloaded and played on computers or smartphones.

Dant’e Cottingham, held at the Jackson Correctional Institution in Black River Falls, co-founded a podcast called Incarcerate US with his fiancée, Julie Cottingham. Julie, who is not in prison, serves as creative producer for the show; she told Prison Legal News that they both hope the podcast can shine a light on major issues in carceral facilities, which can eventually lead to reforms.

“[Dant’e] believes wholeheartedly that there is a way to prevent other teens from following in his footsteps and he knows through experience that there is a more effective way for the criminal justice system to deal with teens/other citizens,” Julie stated, noting that the 40-year-old Dant’e had been imprisoned since age 17. “He’s a passionate prison reform activist who believes that telling the stories of mass incarceration is vital to prison reform.”

In an interview with PLN, Dant’e said a major part of his motivation for starting Incarcerate US is ...

Public Outcry Forces Florida DOC to Back Down on Limits to In-Person Visitation

by David M. Reutter

Following an onslaught of pressure from the public and action by the Florida legislature’s Joint Administrative Procedures Committee (JAPC), the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) was forced to withdraw a rule proposal to reduce in-person visitation time by half.

At an initial April 3, 2018 public hearing on the proposal, more than 100 people showed up to speak against the rule change. Prison officials had announced the hearing just a week earlier by filing a notice in the Florida Administrative Register.

“I really don’t want my visits or anyone’s visits to be taken,” said 11-year-old Cody Calhoun, who told prison officials he would be “devastated” if the change went into effect.

“Why would you even take [visits] away?” he asked. “I mean, they’re already having a bad enough time in prison. Why would you make it worse? Please. I need to see my dad on the weekends.... I love playing with him and it brings me closer to him.”

The FDOC, however, refused to back down.

“No one would argue that visitation isn’t valuable, that the family connections aren’t important, that having those connections contributes to the reduction of recidivism,” said FDOC ...

Washington: Jail Detainee Obtains $1 Million Settlement for Spinal Injury

by Steve Horn

Bryan Telford, who was held as a pretrial detainee at the King County Correctional Facility in Seattle, Washington in September 2016, recently obtained a $1 million settlement in a lawsuit filed against the county.

Telford suffers from frequent fainting – known as syncope – and suffered a serious spinal injury when he fainted and fell at the King County jail. His lawsuit, filed in state court, argued that jail officials did not do enough to treat him after that incident. The complaint also alleged guards mocked and ridiculed him following the syncope episode on September 27, 2016.

“When he awoke, the plaintiff asked to by (sic) taken to Harborview Medical Center because of his extreme pain, but his request was denied,” the complaint stated. “However, one of the correctional officers told the plaintiff to get his ‘ass’ back to his bunk before they ‘tazed’ him.... Another officer began to clap his hands and said, ‘And the Academy Award goes to....’”

Further, a female guard threatened Telford with solitary confinement in “the hole” if he continued to complain about his injuries from the fainting incident; he was placed in solitary and charged with a disciplinary infraction ...

Death Sentences and Executions Ebbing in the “Capital of Capital Punishment”

by Ed Lyon

Harris County, Texas is known for many things. The county seat is Houston, the fourth-largest city in the United States and the largest in Texas. It has its own shipping channel and a modern port for ocean-going vessels. It is also known as “the death penalty capital of the world,” “the capital of capital punishment” and “the buckle of the American death belt.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1972 that the death penalty, as then applied, was unconstitutional. Four years later the Court allowed capital punishment to resume; Texas restarted death penalty prosecutions in 1982.

There were 1,465 executions in the United States from 1976 through the end of 2017; 545 occurred in Texas, over a third of the total. Harris County alone was responsible for 126 of those executions.

Jeff Newberry, with the University of Houston Law Center, summed up the main reason for Harris County’s high death penalty and execution numbers: District Attorney Johnny Holmes. Holmes held the D.A.’s office from 1979 until 2000. Under his leadership, prosecutors secured over 200 death sentences. Holmes once told the Houston Chronicle, with respect to his efforts to obtain death penalty ...

Denver Pays $100,000 to Settle DOJ Suit Over Failure to Accommodate Diabetic Deputy

by Matt Clarke

On May 15, 2018, the City and County of Denver, Colorado agreed to pay $100,000 to an unidentified deputy sheriff who was fired from his position at the Denver County jail after the Sheriff’s Department refused to accommodate his Type 1 diabetes, causing him to twice experience severe hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

As part of the settlement, the defendants also agreed to accommodate employees with disabilities, change their policies regarding such accommodations, and train all supervisory and human resources staff on accommodating employees with disabilities.

The deputy was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at around the age of 16. He had worked for the county for about 26 years, almost 20 of them as a deputy sheriff. To accommodate his medical condition, he had developed a routine of checking his blood sugar during regular breaks then taking insulin as needed and eating a meal or snack. To facilitate this, he carried snacks on his person and kept some in his locker.

On April 24, 2015, the deputy was unexpectedly called into work at 6 a.m. to provide security for a parole hearing. He began experiencing symptoms of low blood sugar – shakiness and sweating ...

Exonerated Prisoner Invests Portion of $20 Million Settlement to Start Barber School

by Derek Gilna

No one appreciates the challenges of re-entering society like a former prisoner, especially one who was wrongfully convicted.

For exonerated ex-prisoner Juan Rivera of Illinois, his experiences led him to invest some of his multi-million dollar wrongful conviction settlement into training low-income students at a barber’s school in Chicago’s South Side, according to a March 2018 news article.

Rivera was convicted three times for the 1992 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl and sentenced to life, even though DNA evidence excluded him as the perpetrator. Then 19 years old with an IQ of 79, he signed a confession written by police officers after three days of questioning. Rivera’s conviction was overturned by the Illinois Appellate Court in 2011 and the charges were dismissed the following year. He was stabbed twice during the two decades he served in prison.

The number of known wrongful convictions in the United States has risen to almost 2,300, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, with most of those who have been released serving over 10 years, like Rivera and Kristine Bunch. Bunch spent 17 years in prison for the arson death of her young son before she was exonerated ...

HRDC Sues Oklahoma County Jail for Censoring Books

by Steve Horn

The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), which publishes Prison Legal News, filed a lawsuit on May 9, 2018 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma against Pontotoc County and Sheriff John Christian, for blocking the distribution of HRDC books sent to prisoners at the county jail.

HRDC alleges that beginning in April 2017, jail staff began rejecting two books – the Habeas Citebook and Protecting Your Health and Safety.

“Defendants censored these books and did not deliver them to the intended prisoner recipients at the Jail. Since April 2017, HRDC separately sent thirty of the books ... to various prisoners at the Jail,” the complaint states. “Twenty-nine of the books were returned to HRDC in their original packaging with writing on the outside stating simply ‘Refused.’”

HRDC contends that the censorship policy at the Pontotoc County jail violates both its First Amendment rights as a book publisher seeking to distribute reading materials and its due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Fourteenth Amendment applies because jail officials “failed to provide HRDC any notice or opportunity to appeal these censorship decisions,” the complaint notes. HRDC is seeking injunctive and declaratory ...

Federal District Court Holds Ohio Prison Cannot Cut Rastafarian Prisoner’s Hair

by Matt Clarke

On May 14, 2018, Senior U.S. District Court Judge Patricia A. Gaughan ruled the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) could not enforce a grooming policy that required a Rastafarian prisoner to cut his dreadlocks.

The district court declared the grooming policy, as applied to the prisoner, violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), and enjoined prison officials from enforcing the policy against him.

Deon S. Glenn, 29, an Ohio state prisoner, filed a federal civil rights action alleging the ODRC’s enforcement of its grooming policy violated his rights under RLUIPA. Glenn is serving a lengthy sentence for murder and attempted murder at the Trumbull Correctional Institution, and is considered a “level 3” security risk with a prison disciplinary record of 39 rule infractions, including one for having a weapon and seven for contraband.

Glenn has been a practicing Rastafarian since 2012. One tenet of his faith is that he allow his hair to grow without being cut. His deadlocks extended about three inches from his scalp and were the thickness of a pencil at the time of the court ruling.

Ohio Administrative Code § 5120-9-25(D) prohibits ODRC prisoners from wearing ...

Contraband Found in Prisoner’s Rectum Supports Conviction

by David Reutter

In December 2017, a Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed a conviction for possession of contraband by a state prisoner. The court rejected the prisoner’s claim that the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction, as testimony presented at trial indicated the contraband had been retrieved from the prisoner’s rectum.

While at SCI Fayette, guard Albert Wood observed a prisoner hand something to prisoner Edwin Greco Wylie-Biggs while they were transitioning from the cell block to the dining hall. Both were taken to another area for a strip search.

As part of the search, Wylie-Biggs was required to bend over and spread his buttocks. When he did so, a “clear plastic bag containing a small blue balloon could be seen sticking out of his rectum,” the court wrote. The bag was removed and the substance it contained subsequently tested positive for synthetic marijuana, known as K2.

A jury found Wylie-Biggs guilty of possession of contraband and he was sentenced to three to six years in prison, run consecutive to his prior sentence. On appeal, he challenged the sufficiency of the evidence against him. The Superior Court rejected his claim and affirmed the conviction and sentence. See: Commonwealth v ...

Alaska Supreme Court Reverses Disciplinary Case Where Prisoner Not Allowed to Call Witnesses

by Matt Clarke and David Reutter

On April 27, 2018, the Supreme Court of Alaska held that a prisoner had been improperly denied his right to call witnesses at a prison disciplinary hearing, and his failure to raise that issue during administrative appeals did not waive the issue.

Scott Walker, an Alaska state prisoner, began working as an orientation assistant in the Special Management Unit at the Goose Creek Correctional Center in October 2013. He wrote up an outline of orientation topics and awaited further instructions. Ten months later, Criminal Justice Technician Brooke Baumgartner met with Walker and learned he had continued to be paid but had not actively worked in nine months. He told her he had tried to inform four officers about the payroll mistake, but could only name two.

He also said he had sent several “Request for Interview Forms” to prison employees addressing the situation. Such forms are returned to a prisoner’s file after they are received by staff.

Baumgartner did not find any of the forms in Walker’s file, and one of the two staff members Walker named said he never mentioned the payroll error. The payments to Walker while he wasn’t working were estimated ...

California Muslim Prisoner Defeats Summary Judgment Order in Mixed Appellate Ruling

by Ed Lyon

Darrell Eugene Harris is a Muslim prisoner confined in California’s prison system. He filed a civil rights suit raising state and federal claims against prison guard S. Escamilla.

Harris alleged that Escamilla removed his Koran from a protective cover, threw it on the ground and then stepped on it. After the Koran was desecrated, Harris was unable to use it for his daily readings, causing a substantial burden on his ability to exercise his religious beliefs.

The district court granted summary judgment to Escamilla and Harris appealed.

In an unpublished ruling on May 24, 2018, the Ninth Circuit held the district court erred in its grant of summary judgment, finding Escamilla was not entitled to qualified immunity on Harris’ First Amendment claim and Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim.

The appellate court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Harris’ damages claim under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), since monetary damages are not available under RLUIPA. Further, since Harris had since been transferred to another facility, his RLUIPA claims seeking injunctive and declaratory relief were moot and thus should be dismissed.

However, Harris had sufficiently pleaded coercion in a state law claim pursuant to California’s ...

CCS Seeks to Hide Internal Review in Jail Detainee’s Death; $180,000 Settlement

by David Reutter and R. Bailey

Correct Care Solutions, a for-profit company that provides medical services at correctional facilities, contested the release of documents concerning the death of Dino Vann Nixon at the Forsyth County Jail (FCJ) in North Carolina.

Upon being booked into FCJ on drug trafficking charges on July 11, 2013, Nixon informed jail officials that for years prior to his arrest he had been taking several prescription drugs, including Xanax, a benzodiazepine.

Correct Care, however, refused to provide that medication or the Ambien and Vicodin Nixon had been prescribed by an outside doctor. Rather, the company’s healthcare staff said he had to take what they had on hand.

Nixon’s condition deteriorated over the next three weeks as he suffered the effects of cold-turkey benzodiazepine withdrawal. Dr. Alan Raymond Rhoades, Correct Care’s medical director at FCJ, wrote that between July 18 and August 3, 2013, Nixon was doing well; however, his medical records indicated otherwise according to a lawsuit filed by his widow.

“Defendants acted like Mr. Nixon was faking his symptoms,” the suit stated. “Defendants were dead wrong. Mr. Nixon died.”

The complaint alleged he suffered “confusion, lack of sleep, tremor, bizarre and unusual behavior ...

Aramark Gets Pennsylvania DOC Food Procurement Contract

In early 2017, Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections (PDOC) entered into an “innovative” agreement with private food service vendor Aramark. State officials claimed the $154 million contract would save taxpayers an estimated $16.6 million over its three-year term.

The contract is unique in that Aramark will not control staffing, meal service or menus in Pennsylvania’s 26 prisons. Instead the company shall provide food procurement, and use its purchasing power and technology to improve food service operations.

While the prison system will maintain operational control of its kitchens, Aramark will manage food purchasing, logistics and inventory. The company said it was “excited about this innovative public-private partnership that will help the DOC better manage quality and nutrition while delivering millions of dollars in savings to the taxpayers of the Commonwealth,” said Karen Cultes, an Aramark spokesperson.

The contract was somewhat surprising in light of Aramark’s history of overbilling when it provided the PDOC’s food service operations over a decade ago. [See: PLN, June 2006, p.25]. It was also disappointing to local food suppliers and dairies that previously had contracts with the prison system.

“A lot of companies in Pennsylvania relied on that,” said John Friedmann, president of Karetas ...

Why Prison Reform is Not Enough to Fix the U.S. Criminal Justice System

by Ed Chung, Center for American Progress

The Trump administration kicked off 2018 by expressing a surprising, newfound interest in reforming the country’s prisons and strengthening opportunities for those incarcerated to successfully re-enter their communities upon completion of their sentences. In mid-January, the White House convened a group of conservative governors and advocates for a roundtable discussion on prison reform, organized by President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The president also mentioned prison reform in his 2018 State of the Union speech, stating that “this year we will embark on reforming our prisons to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance.” Most recently, the White House relaunched a task force initially established by former President Barack Obama – now rebranded as the Federal Interagency Council on Crime Prevention and Improving Reentry – which comprises federal agencies to coordinate the federal government’s policies to reduce recidivism.

It is tempting to interpret these public statements as a commitment to criminal justice reform. In reality, however, they highlight how much the federal government’s leadership on this issue has diminished. Two years ago, the federal government was driving the national discussion not only on ...

The Secret World of Missouri DOC Internal Death Investigations

by Kevin Bliss

The Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) has been accused of not being transparent or competent when it comes to conducting investigations into deaths that occur in state prisons. The DOC is responsible for the care and treatment of numerous dangerous and mentally ill prisoners, yet death reviews are handled internally. The release of information is carefully controlled; even the names of staff members involved do not have to be released. Nor does video footage taken within the prison system.

“It’s a secret world,” observed Jim Bruce, a Missouri civil rights attorney. “Only the people who are in charge have control of the records.”

Around 100 Missouri state prisoners die each year, mainly due to natural causes. But some deaths result from acts of violence, such as the 2013 case of Jose Benitez, who was fatally assaulted by fellow prisoner Terry Volner.

Volner was serving life without parole for killing a child in 2011. After murdering Benitez, he received a second term of life without parole. Other deaths were the result of actions taken by prison staff, such as an incident involving prisoner Michael Lorenzo King at the Eastern Reception Diagnostic and Correctional Center (ERDCC).

King ...

California Prisoners Seek to Enforce Settlement Provisions in Ashker Litigation

by Kevin Bliss

On March 29, 2018, a federal magistrate judge in California held that prisoners in a class-action lawsuit over long-term solitary confinement, who entered into a settlement agreement with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), had not proven a material breach of the agreement. That decision was subsequently overruled in part by the district court.

CDCR prisoners held in Secure Housing Units (SHUs) stay on lockdown 23 hours a day and have limited programming opportunities or privileges. A large number of those prisoners have remained in SHUs for years or even decades due to alleged gang affiliations.

On behalf of a class of prisoners in administrative SHU, California state prisoner Todd Ashker and other plaintiffs entered into a September 2015 settlement with the CDCR that included a requirement that all class members eligible for release under the agreement would be transferred to a “General Population level IV 180-design facility, or other general population institution consistent with [their] case factors.” [See: PLN, Nov. 2016, p.1; Oct. 2014, p.30].

The CDCR transferred over 200 SHU prisoners to other facilities, where in some cases conditions were no better than in segregation units. Many class members asserted ...

Ninth Circuit: Prisoner’s Disciplinary Appeal Exhausted Claim of Having to Work on Religious Holiday

by Christopher Zoukis

On May 18, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a district court’s order dismissing a prisoner’s complaint for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The Ninth Circuit held the prisoner’s claim, which alleged a violation of his right to religious liberty under the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), could proceed.

Michael Ray Fuqua, a Christian prisoner held in an Arizona state prison, was scheduled to work in the kitchen on September 24, 2014, a religious holiday. When he learned of the schedule, which would require him to work on the Feast of Trumpets, he wrote a letter outlining his concerns and offering to switch shifts or pick up other shifts to cover the day off. Fuqua tried to give the letter to Sergeant Starnes, who told him “we don’t do that shit here” and refused to accept the letter.

The day before the holiday, Fuqua spoke with kitchen manager Clark about the issue. Clark told him to “do what you have to do,” but warned that Fuqua “will not have a job here” if he didn’t show up on the religious holiday. The day ...

Fighting the Fees that Force Prisoners to Pay for Their Incarceration

by Jean Trounstine,

This past January, prisoners in Florida went on strike to protest what they called modern-day slavery in the state’s prisons. As of March, not only had the Florida Department of Corrections not responded to the demand for paid labor and improved living conditions, it had also placed some of the prisoners who were demanding fair wages into solitary confinement. As Heather Ann Thompson, author of Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy, succinctly said on Democracy Now!, “If you do not treat people as human beings they will eventually erupt.” The fight is far from over.

Florida is one of five states where prisoners receive no money for their work, forcing families to cough up money for food and necessities. Florida is also one of 43 states that charge prisoners for their so-called “stay” behind bars, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. This egregious injustice disproportionately targets African Americans, who fill a third of Florida’s prison beds, although they only make up 17 percent of the state’s overall population.

While the movement to end money bail has gained steam across the nation, the burgeoning fight against ...

Fourth Circuit: Failure to Transfer Mentally Ill Prisoner to Hospital Not Actionable

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a district court’s denial of qualified immunity to a defendant in a civil rights action related to the August 19, 2015 death of Jamycheal Mitchell at Virginia’s Hampton Roads Regional Jail.

As repeatedly reported in PLN, Mitchell, 24, died due to “wasting syndrome” or severe malnutrition after losing around 36 pounds while incarcerated. He had been arrested on misdemeanor charges for stealing several snacks and a drink from a 7-Eleven store, which cost $5.05. [See: PLN, July 2018, p.44; Feb. 2017, p.24; Jan. 2017, p.44; Feb. 2016, p.63].

Although the trial court found that Mitchell – who had a history of mental illness and displayed “agitated behavior, elevated and irritable mood, and delusions” – required a mental competency evaluation, he was not sent to a mental health facility but remained at the jail.

The lawsuit over Mitchell’s death alleged the clerk of court did not notify Eastern State Hospital for two months about the court’s competency evaluation order. The person responsible for processing that order “put the fax (with the order) in her desk drawer and took no further action.” As a result, Mitchell’s name did ...

Texas Prison Officials Demoted, Fired after Disciplinary Quota System and Planted Contraband Exposed

In April 2018, prisoners at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s (TDCJ) Ramsey Unit in Rosharon smuggled out of the facility and into the hands of the Houston Chronicle records that proved the existence of a quota system for disciplinary charges, as well as threats against guards who failed to meet the quota requirements.

Whether called a “case,” “ticket” or “write-up,” disciplinary charges are a feature of life in all prisons, and Texas is no exception. But the TDCJ has always denied there is a “quota” for disciplinary cases that guards are incentivized to issue – an assertion that was hard to disprove until evidence surfaced.

An investigation by the Chronicle uncovered an email from Captain Reginald Gilbert dated March 9, 2018, in which he announced the prison’s sergeants would be required to turn in two disciplinary cases per day from every guard on their shift.

“Two each day is my requirement,” Gilbert wrote. “Remember this is to be done each workday without exception.”

The email also threatened disciplinary action against guards who failed to satisfy the quota. Gilbert specified that the disciplinary charges should be for “Level 2 Code 35 ‘Unauthorized Storage of Property.’” ...

$7 Million Settlement for Pennsylvania Prisoner’s Suicide at Private Prison

A $7 million settlement was reached in the suicide death of a mentally ill prisoner at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility (GWHCF) in Thornton, Pennsylvania, operated at the time by private prison company Community Education Centers.

When she was in her late twenties, Janene Wallace was diagnosed with mental illness. She was sent to GWHCF in 2013 following her conviction for terroristic threats that stemmed from phone calls she made to a high school acquaintance. She was released on probation, but violated its terms in 2015 by traveling out of state without permission.

Wallace again landed in GWHCF and was placed in solitary confinement due to her depressive and paranoid behavior. She reportedly refused to bathe, was making irrational statements and rubbed menstrual blood on a shower wall. She also accused guards of trying to harm her.

The door to Wallace’s solitary confinement cell had a sign on it stating she was “unstable.” At the time of her death, she had been in segregation for 50 days and had not been out of her cell for 85 hours.

Prior to hanging herself with her bra from a cell vent on May 26, 2015, Wallace got into an argument ...

States Implementing New Technology to Fight Contraband Smuggling Via Drone

by Monte McCoin

Prison Legal News has reported several times on the trend of prison contraband smuggling via remote-controlled aerial drones, both in the U.S. and other countries. [See, e.g.: PLN, May 2018, p.14; Nov. 2017, p.52; Sept. 2016, p.18].

South Carolina Department of Corrections (DOC) Director Bryan Stirling announced on May 28, 2018 that the department was implementing a new technique to combat illicit drone activity – it would use its own fleet of drones to conduct 24-hour surveillance of prison yards.

“You are seeing us use technology to survey our prisons from the sky. We are going to show up if people are coming into our prisons up to no good. There’s a great potential that we are going to see them,” Stirling said. He added the DOC was even using drones that had been confiscated in previous smuggling attempts to “fight fire with fire.”

He explained the department had hired two former military drone pilots to randomly rotate among the state’s 21 prisons and man the controls for day and night surveillance of the perimeter and grounds of each facility. The drone cameras have night-vision and heat-sensitive capability; when there ...

Arkansas DOC Says Water is Safe, but Most Tests Not Conducted in Housing Units

by Panagioti Tsolkas

In July 2018, former prisoners and their family members in Arkansas raised concerns about a variety of issues at a hearing with state lawmakers, included concerns about the water quality at several prisons. One ex-prisoner said the water at the East Arkansas Unit was not even “fit to take a shower in.”

Water quality problems should always be a red flag when a prison’s water system is operating far beyond its capacity. But the Arkansas Department of Corrections preferred to dodge a thorough investigation rather than address a possible crisis.

Prisoners had been complaining of brown, dirty water at four state prisons, the Tucker, East Arkansas, Cummins and North Central Units and their nearby satellite camps, which use a common water system. Collectively the facilities house around half the state’s almost 18,000 prisoners.

According to news reports, the Tucker Unit, which captured headlines in November 2017 when several prisoners took two guards hostage, has a daily maximum demand of more than 890,000 gallons of water – far above the system’s capacity of 590,000 gallons per day.

Water quality experts said the discoloration was likely due to high levels of iron and manganese, according ...

Maricopa County, Phoenix Settle Lawsuit Over Mentally Ill Prisoner’s Death for $7.25 Million

by Matt Clarke

In April 2018, just weeks before a trial was scheduled to begin, the City of Phoenix, Arizona agreed to pay $250,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the family of a mentally ill prisoner who died at the Maricopa County jail after being mocked, beaten and Tasered by guards. The county settled its part of the suit for $7 million.

When Ernest “Marty” Atencio, 44, a Gulf War veteran, was arrested by Phoenix police in December 2011, the officers knew he was mentally ill from previous encounters. His misdemeanor arrest resulted from a woman’s complaint that he had been kicking at the door of an apartment in the complex where he lived, yelled at her and made her feel scared by coming too close to her. Instead of being taken to a mental health care provider, Atencio was booked into the Maricopa County jail.

According to court documents, jail guards and medical staff knew Atencio was mentally ill but failed to seek treatment for him. Instead, the guards mocked his “word salad” and inability to comprehend instructions, and tried to have him make the worst possible booking photo so they could win a weekly contest for ...

Magistrate Judge Must Have Jurisdiction Prior to Entering Final Judgment

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals allowed an appeal to continue to the briefing stage after concluding that “all parties had consented to proceeding before the magistrate judge by the time he entered a final judgment dismissing the entire action.”

Before the appellate court was an appeal brought by Wisconsin prisoner Anderson DaSilva. While held at the Waupan Correctional Institution, DaSilva become “dizzy, vomited, lost consciousness, and fell, hitting his head on the way down” after receiving his medication one evening. He believed the incident occurred because he was given the wrong meds.

More than three hours passed before DaSilva was taken to a hospital located five minutes from the prison. At the hospital, “doctors stapled a deep laceration and diagnosed a serious concussion.”

DaSilva sued a guard named “Coby” who gave him the medication, as well as Captain Rymarkiewicz and Nurse De­Young, alleging violations of the Eighth Amendment. During the initial screening process, DaSilva agreed to let a magistrate judge conduct all proceedings. The magistrate dismissed the guard from the case, finding “Coby’s distribution of the medication was nothing more than a mistake, which fails as a matter of law to reflect deliberate indifference.”

After Rymarkiewicz ...

More Legal Cases Involving Transgender Prisoners in Multiple States

by Christopher Zoukis

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), about 34 percent of transgender people held in prisons or jails reported being subjected to at least one incident of sexual violence while incarcerated. That’s eight times the rate for prisoners overall – and a large number of the 3,200 transgender prisoners the BJS counted in 2012.

In most jails and prisons, self-professed gender identity is not considered when determining whether to place a prisoner in a men’s or women’s facility. This leads to situations like that of Jane Doe – a 52-year-old Massachusetts prisoner who filed a November 2017 lawsuit challenging the Department of Correction’s policy in that state, which placed her in a prison for males despite the fact that she transitioned to female more than 40 years ago.

Lawsuits like Doe’s – along with a recent increase in political pressure – have coincided with incremental changes in the way the needs of transgender prisoners are addressed by prison officials. [See: PLN, June 2018, p.54].

Connecticut recently enacted what might be the most sweeping changes to the way transgender prisoners are treated. SB-13, which went into effect on July 1, 2018, gives those prisoners the ...

#MeToo Movement, Misconduct Claims Impact Federal and State Judges

by Ed Lyon

The #MeToo movement seeks to expose incidents of sexual harassment and sexual abuse by men against women. The movement has resulted in accusations against a number of high-profile figures, including actors, businessmen and politicians. Members of the judiciary have not been excluded from claims of sexual misconduct, in cases that long predate the #MeToo trend.

In 1998, Waco, Texas federal judge Walter Smith made sexual advances to a deputy clerk in his chambers. The woman escaped but he continued to pursue her, even sending her roses. Her complaints eventually reached Chief Judge Harry Lee Hudspeth on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“What exactly do you want me to do about this?” Hudspeth reportedly asked the victim.

The woman quit her job to end the harassment. Sixteen years later, in 2014, attorney Ty Clevenger deposed the victim for an appeal he had filed of a sanction handed down by Smith in a 2009 case – entering the woman’s testimony into the public record.

Two Fifth Circuit Judicial Council investigations followed. As a result of the first, Judge Smith was reprimanded and suspended in December 2015. But the investigative report noted that he did “not understand the ...

Litigation Surrounding Radon Exposure at Connecticut Prison Moves Forward

by Panagioti Tsolkas

“We’re talking about levels in some places that are equivalent to smoking 2½ packs of cigarettes a day,” said Lori A. Welch-Rubin, one of the attorneys who filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of prisoners at the Garner Correctional Institution (GCI) in Newtown, Connecticut. The case centers around exposure to radon gas – a known carcinogen – far above levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In September 2018, a federal district court denied in part and granted in part the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case. The court allowed Eighth Amendment claims arising after June 18, 1993 to proceed, as well as claims for injunctive and declaratory relief.

Andrius Banevicius, a spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC), said the state was reviewing the September 27 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Janet Bond Arterton, claiming the state had begun routine testing for radon at GCI and recently installed a radon mitigation system at the facility.

Welch-Rubin was unconvinced.

“They still haven’t tested where the prisoners are, so we don’t know if what they are now doing is even adequate,” she said.

According to Welch-Rubin, the mitigation system doesn’t cover all ...

San Diego County Targets Reporter Who Exposed Sky-High Jail Death Rate

by Dale Chappell

When the widow of a prisoner who committed suicide at a San Diego County jail filed suit claiming staff had been made aware of the jail’s high death rate due to a reporter’s local news reports, the county went after the journalist instead of trying to address the problem.

Although Los Angeles County’s jail population is three times larger than San Diego’s, the death rate in San Diego jails is higher. Much higher. Between 2007 and 2012, 60 prisoners died in San Diego County’s jail system – including 16 suicides. In fact, none of the 10 largest jails in the state had a higher death rate.

The county has been hit with multiple lawsuits over prisoner deaths and paid out millions of dollars in two lawsuits in 2017. The county was well aware it had a problem with high death rates in its jail system.

When former U.S. Marine Kristopher Nesmith’s widow sued in 2017 over her husband’s death by suicide at a San Diego jail, part of the evidence cited in the lawsuit was a San Diego CityBeat article titled “60 Dead Inmates” by Kelly Davis, an award-winning journalist who exposed the problem of the ...

Mississippi: Former Jailer Acquitted of Criminal Charges in Prisoner’s Death

by Kevin Bliss

Victor Smith was found not guilty of aggravated assault and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, stemming from an incident when he was employed as a jailer with the Adams County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) in Mississippi. He is also being sued by the family of Joseph “Joey” Sturdivant in connection with Sturdivant’s hanging death.

Smith was passing out lunch trays on March 17, 2016 with the assistance of jail trustees Jerome Harris and Kelcey Watson, without a second guard present as required by ACSO protocol. He found that he was a tray short and left to retrieve one without locking the cell doors. When he returned he saw Harris in the cell with Sturdivant, but testified there did not appear to be any type of altercation at that time.

Later, surveillance video footage showed Harris in his cell giving a thumbs-up sign to someone outside his door. Smith testified that was him; he was concerned because Harris was prone to asthma attacks, and was checking on him. Harris was simply letting Smith know that he was OK, he said.

At about 1 p.m., a prisoner walked past Sturdivant’s cell and saw him hanging from a noose made ...

Prisoner Can Face Discipline Yet Still Sue Guard for Excessive Force Under Heck

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held on April 23, 2018 that the “inconsistent-factual-allegation gloss” on Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994) applies only “where the allegation in the [42 U.S.C.] § 1983 complaint is a specific one that both necessarily implies the earlier decision is invalid and is necessary to the success of the § 1983 suit itself.”

Before the Eleventh Circuit was the appeal of Florida prisoner Kirk Dixon. He was appealing the dismissal of his civil rights complaint that alleged guard Nathan Pollock used excessive force against him in August 2013 at the Everglades Correctional Institution.

Dixon went to the guard’s station after officials assigned an elderly, disabled prisoner to the upper bunk in Dixon’s cell. Guards refused to listen as Dixon explained that the other prisoner could not reach the top bunk due to his disability. As Dixon spoke, Pollock began to shout at him. When Dixon asked why he was shouting, Pollock jumped out of his chair, approached and threatened Dixon, and told him to return to his dorm.

Turning to leave, Dixon was tripped by Pollock, who then proceeded to kick him for about two minutes before other guards ...

Over-Incarceration a Worldwide Problem, Report Finds

by Derek Gilna

Earlier this year, London-based Penal Reform International and the Thailand Institute of Justice issued a report on incarceration worldwide that draws heavily on research funded by the United Nations.

The 60-page report not only identifies areas of concern, as well as data that explores international incarceration trends, but also includes recommendations for reforms. According to the authors, “over 10.35 million prisoners [were] living in prisons around the world in 2016, either in pre-trial detention or having been convicted and sentenced,” indicating that over-incarceration is not a practice confined to the United States.

“The growth of the world prison population has exceeded the rate of general population growth since 2000, and, in many countries, this increase has led to more overcrowded prisons,” the study states. “Data suggests that the number of prisoners exceeds official prison capacity in at least 120 countries.”

It also appears that other nations face many of the same problems that exist in the U.S., including abusive police tactics, excessive pre-trial detention, over-sentencing, over-use of life imprisonment, arbitrary imposition of the death penalty and too much emphasis on non-violent drug crimes.

Criminal justice systems examined in the report include those ...

BOP’s Violation of Alcohol Policy Ends in Expungement, Reversal of Disciplinary Sanctions

by Dale Chappell

The Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) violation of its own alcohol policy prompted the expungement of disciplinary reports and reversal of sanctions imposed on two prisoners after they challenged their disciplinary convictions in court.

On March 11, 2017, guards at FCI Marianna in Florida conducted mass alcohol testing of an entire housing unit, supposedly based on information there was alcohol in that area. Guards went room to room and tested every prisoner, locking up those who tested positive for alcohol and charging them with a 112-series disciplinary violation.

Two of those prisoners were Jon Bartlett and Neal Jowers, who both tested positive for alcohol. Bartlett’s test showed a BAC level of 0.013, while Jowers’ was 0.008.

Placed in handcuffs, they were taken to segregation and, after a hearing before a disciplinary officer, were kept in segregation for 21 days plus the time they waited for the hearing. They also lost numerous privileges, including visits, commissary and their jobs, and were placed in “least preferred housing” – a three-man cell designed for only two – once they were released from segregation. They also were put on the BOP’s “hot list,” which requires more frequent random drug ...

Pennsylvania: Allegheny County Jail Settles Sexual Assault Claim for $32,000

A settlement of $32,000 was reached with the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) in Pittsburgh, in a federal lawsuit filed by a former prisoner who was sexually assaulted by guard Joshua Reber. The suit, brought against the county and 16 jail officials by Melissa Behanna, raised a failure to protect claim.

In February 2015, Behanna was transferred to ACJ after receiving two consecutive one-year sentences in Washington County for possession of drug paraphernalia. Two months later she encountered Joshua Reber, a guard at the jail. Reber already had a reputation for sexually harassing female prisoners in the pod where he worked; he was known by staff and prisoners as the “pod father,” and certain prisoners were his “girlfriends.”

Reber’s M.O. was to find prisoners recently recovering from drug addiction or in active addiction, and make them pod workers where they were afforded benefits and he had better access to them. He would then move his victim to a cell not monitored by ACJ’s video surveillance system. Reber would harass and threaten them until they agreed to perform sexual acts; he was even known to keep souvenirs from his victims in his locker.

Whenever grievances were filed against ...

Dog-Sniff Search Policy Allowed Under Massachusetts Law, but APA Procedures Required

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held on April 19, 2018 that the Massachusetts Department of Correction (MDOC) had authority to implement a policy that requires prison visitors to be subject to drug-detecting dogs. However, the Court also found the MDOC had failed to meet the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

In early 2013, Massachusetts prison officials announced they would begin subjecting prison visitors to searches by drug-detecting dogs. They announced the new policy via videos played in prison lobbies, on YouTube and on the MDOC’s website.

Michael Carey, Gatewood Wert and Brenda Frazier filed suit seeking declaratory relief that the new policy was not authorized by the MDOC’s existing regulations, plus an injunction enjoining the MDOC from implementing the policy as it had not been promulgated pursuant to the APA.

Two separate Superior Courts denied relief. On its own motion, the Supreme Judicial Court assumed jurisdiction over the appeal. The plaintiffs argued the dog-sniff search policy was contrary to existing regulations that only allow searches similar to metal detectors and personal searches.

The Court disagreed in a unanimous ruling. It saw “nothing in the language of the general regulation that precludes a canine search. On the contrary, by ...

Oklahoma County Pays $150,000 to Settle Suit Over Jail Suicide

by Derek Gilna

Nathan Daniel Bradshaw, 32, hung himself at the Tulsa County, Oklahoma jail, five days after his arrest on a bench warrant for a larceny charge, and died shortly thereafter in a Tulsa hospital. Last year, county commissioners approved a payout of $150,000 to his family in a settlement agreement that did not require them to admit fault. The case was initially filed in state court then removed to federal court.

According to the most recent report issued by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, newly incarcerated prisoners, especially those confined in local jails, are most at risk for suicide. The BJS noted the risk of suicide declines sharply after the first month of incarceration. Bradshaw’s death was yet another indication that jails need to do a better job of screening and monitoring incoming prisoners for possible suicidal tendencies, particularly those housed in single-man cells.

An investigative news site,, requested surveillance video of the hallway outside Bradshaw’s cell under Oklahoma’s Open Records Act, but jail officials refused, stating, “As per your request regarding the Bradshaw case, jail surveillance video is not subject to open record requests ...

Defense Investigator Jailed for Initially Refusing to Testify in Death Penalty Case

by Matt Clarke

Greta Lindercrantz, 67, was jailed for contempt of court by Arapahoe County, Colorado District Judge Michelle Amico on February 26, 2018.

Lindercrantz, a Mennonite defense investigator, had refused to testify in a hearing for Colorado death row prisoner Robert Keith Ray. Lindercrantz was part of Ray’s defense team during his 2009 double-homicide trial; she cited religious opposition to capital punishment as her reason for refusing to answer questions posed by prosecutors in an appellate hearing on Ray’s claim that his attorneys had provided ineffective assistance of counsel.

“I feel like I’m having to choose between you and God,” she told the court. “I feel like I was handed a gun and I was told to point it at Mr. Ray, and the gun might or might not have bullets in it, but I’d have to fire it anyway. I can’t shoot the gun. I can’t shoot the gun.”

Mennonites oppose all forms of violence, including state-sanctioned violence such as the death penalty.

Less than two weeks later, on March 12, 2018, Judge Amico ordered Lindercrantz released from jail after she agreed to testify. A statement from Lindercrantz’s attorney, Mari Neuman, said she had changed her ...

Louisiana Sex Offender Restrictions, Harsh Laws Prolong Prison Sentences

“There is nothing else I have left to complete,” said Antoine Hartley.

The Louisiana prisoner became eligible for release in 2013. But his inability to find post-release housing approved for sex offenders will likely force him to complete his entire sentence through January 2019 – an extra six years that will cost state taxpayers over $100,000.

“The only thing I need now is a residence where I can get out and start doing everything else that I’m supposed to be doing: getting a job, doing my registration and all that,” Hartley said.

Louisiana categorizes sex offenders by the severity of their convictions. They must register and make publicly available a raft of personal information – name, address, photo, employer, phone number, email address, fingerprints, even a DNA sample – on the state’s Sex Offender & Child Predator Registry. They must remain on the registry for at least 15 years, though more severe offenses require lifetime registration. During that time they must disclose their offender status on social media accounts and are banned from driving a bus, limousine or taxi.

Sex offenders are also subject to housing restrictions. They cannot reside within three miles of their victim, and ...

Class-Action Status Granted in Civil Rights Suit Over Disenfranchised Indiana Jail Prisoners

by Matt Clarke

On May 17, 2018, a federal district court certified a class of Allen County, Indiana jail prisoners who were denied their right to vote in the November 2016 general election.

Ian Barnhart was held at the jail on misdemeanor charges from October 31, 2016 until December 15, 2016. He was registered to vote and wanted to vote in the 2016 election. He and other jail prisoners requested absentee ballots per the jail’s policy, but neither received absentee ballots nor were allowed to vote at a voting center a block from the jail.

Aided by Fort Wayne attorney David Frank, Barnhart filed a federal civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violation of his and other prisoners’ Fourteenth Amendment rights. He sought class certification.

The complaint alleged that over 75 percent of the 500 to 600 prisoners incarcerated at the jail on any given day were pretrial detainees and about 25 percent of the remaining prisoners were serving a misdemeanor sentence. Both groups were eligible to vote. The lawsuit accused Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux of systematically disenfranchising the approximately 300 jail prisoners who were both eligible and registered to vote in the ...

New York’s Prison-to-Shelter Pipeline is Poor Option for Parolees

by Dale Chappell

Released from prison, many New York parolees – instead of getting back on their feet through re-entry programs – are heading to homeless shelters in New York City. Of approximately 9,300 prisoners paroled from state prisons in 2017, 54 percent (around 5,000) went directly to shelters – up from 23 percent just three years earlier.

Those 5,000 parolees represented about one in seven of the state’s 35,500 parolees and about one in five new arrivals at New York City homeless shelters last year. The state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) does not track how long they stay there, but said the population is fluid enough that only about 1,600 parolees are in the city’s shelter system at any given time.

“It’s like living in a maze,” said Fred Henderson, who was released from prison in 2009. “The shelter system is worse than prison. At least in prison you know how long you’re gonna be in there and then you get released. In the shelter system, you’re allegedly free, but you’re not. It’s like doing another sentence.”

Henderson, 58, served 10 years for bank robbery at the state’s Franklin ...

Deductions from Pennsylvania Prisoner’s Trust Account Require Notice

On May 4, 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held a Commonwealth Court should not have sustained a demurrer to a prisoner’s action challenging deductions from his prison account to satisfy criminal restitution orders.

State prisoner Kevin A. Bundy asserted, primarily, that he was constitutionally entitled to pre-deprivation notice and a hearing before any deductions were made from his prison account. Corrections officials argued that under 42 Pa. C.S. § 9728 (b)(5), known as “Act 84 deductions,” it could seize 20 percent of funds placed into prisoner accounts to collect “restitution or any other court-ordered obligation or costs.”

The Commonwealth Court sustained the prison officials’ demurrer to the complaint and dismissed the action. On appeal, the state Supreme Court rejected Bundy’s argument that gifts from family members and friends deposited into his account could not be subject to deductions. His “argument that the Due Process Clause requires some form of pre-deprivation notice is more compelling, however,” the Court wrote.

Bundy retained a property interest in the funds in his account, which can only be seized with “due process of law.” A pre-deprivation notice, the Supreme Court said, would allow prisoners to assert a “meaningful (if ...

Female Texas Prison Guards Allege Sexual Harassment, Abuse, Discrimination

by Ed Lyon

During the 10-year period ending in 2017, over 3,500 complaints of sexual harassment and gender bias were filed against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). The state’s largest agency, TDCJ employs 37,000 people, including more than 22,000 guards – 38 percent of whom are female. Women have worked as guards at men’s prisons in Texas since a 1988 Equal Opportunity Act lawsuit.

Sgt. Tanisha Woods said sexual harassment is less prevalent at women’s prisons in Texas. Yet some female guards at men’s facilities have voiced a preference for working with prisoners rather than abusive male coworkers – despite the fact that prisoners sometimes expose themselves, even masturbating in the presence of female staff members.

“You think it’s the inmates you have to worry about,” said a woman formerly employed as a guard, who asked not to be named, “but it’s actually the people you work with.”

The TDCJ now requires bi-annual “discrimination training” and maintains an Employee Assistance Program consisting of free counseling. Prison officials stress that the department’s culture “is not what it once was,” touting a “zero tolerance policy” toward sexual harassment and gender bias. As a result ...

Surprise Shutdown of Maine Prison Leads to Controversy, Court Order

by Christopher Zoukis

In a sudden move that local residents called a “Gestapo tactic,” Maine Governor Paul LePage ordered the closure of a small prison in rural Washington County. The Downeast Correctional Facility (DCF), with a capacity for up to 148 prisoners, was shuttered at 4:30 a.m. on February 9, 2018. The 63 prisoners housed there at the time, many of whom were employed in the local community in a work-release program, were transferred to the Mountain View Correctional Facility.

Located in Machiasport, DCF had 46 employees and cost the state about $5 million a year to operate. Governor LePage had previously threatened to close the prison, which his communications director, Peter Steele, called “expensive and inefficient to run.” According to a statement from Le­Page, the legislature was not going to fund the facility in its 2018-2020 budget, thus it made sense to shutter it early.

“The Legislature did not fund for the total two-year biennial, and at some point it was going to close,” the governor said. “I saw today as an ability to save the state a little bit more money.”

Jim Mackie, a staff representative for the American Federation of State ...

Polls Show People Favor Rehabilitation over Incarceration

by Matt Clarke

A recent poll found a majority of Americans – 67 percent overall – believe that building more prisons and jails does not reduce crime. Nearly as many – 62 percent – don’t believe that more prisons would improve the quality of life in their communities, either. The survey of attitudes toward incarceration, conducted for the Vera Institute of Justice between February 27 and March 5, 2018, showed a similar attitude among both urban and rural respondents, with 61 percent of the latter agreeing that more prison construction would not affect crime rates.

The results mirror the findings of a November 2017 survey conducted for the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice, which found a solid majority of Americans – 71 percent – agreed that incarceration for long periods is counterproductive to public safety due to the absence of effective rehabilitation programs in prisons.

In another poll for the Justice Action Network (JAN) published in January 2018, 85 percent of respondents supported making rehabilitation the goal of the criminal justice system rather than punishment.

The three surveys follow a March 2017 poll conducted for the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which reported 62 percent of respondents favored ...

Maryland Adopts Prison Mailbox Rule for Post-Conviction Petitions

On May 9, 2018, the Maryland Court of Appeals adopted a “prison mailbox rule” for post-conviction petitions.

The need for such a rule became evident in the case of prisoner Thoyt Hackney, who gave a post-conviction relief motion to prison officials three days before a statutory ten-year filing deadline. Two days later, they mailed the petition to the circuit court. It arrived and was date-stamped by the clerk one day late; the circuit court rejected the petition as untimely and the Court of Special Appeals affirmed.

After finding that prisoners have no control over the mailing of their pleadings once they are given to prison staff, the Court of Appeals held that henceforth, “an unrepresented prisoner is deemed to have filed his or her post-conviction petition at the moment the prisoner formally delivers it to prison authorities for forwarding to the circuit court.”

The Court noted that “For many of us, the rapid advancement of technology has relegated the ordinary postal system – colloquially referred to as ‘snail mail’ – to an option of last resort. For others, it is not entirely a thing of the past. The physical mail delivery system provides an important avenue of access to ...

Ohio Jail Detainee Receives $500,000 Settlement for Assault by Guard

A prisoner who was slammed headfirst into a wall by a guard at Ohio’s Hamilton County Jail reached a $500,000 settlement in his civil rights action.

The incident occurred after Mark Myers, 61, was arrested on the morning of August 20, 2016 on a misdemeanor theft warrant. He was accused of having left a Home Depot without paying for $120 in lighting and electrical equipment. Myers was eventually acquitted at trial after it was shown there was a computer error related to an online payment before he picked up the items.

While Myers was going through the jail’s intake process, he asked a nurse for his cell phone so he could call his family. Despite being cooperative and unaggressive toward the nurse, guard Jason Mize became “inexplicably angered.” He interrupted the nurse’s screening and ordered Myers out of his chair.

Security video showed Mize, who was 30 at the time and “extremely physically fit,” force Myers across the room towards an isolation cell intended for combative prisoners. Upon reaching the cell, Mize hurled Myers inside with such force that he “left his feet and collided headfirst with a concrete wall.”

The incident was so violent that ...

New Mexico Prisoners Suffer and Die Under Privatized Health Care

by Ed Lyon

Since it first contracted out prisoner medical care to a private company in 2004, the New Mexico Corrections Department (DOC) has been named along with its contractors in over 220 lawsuits filed by prisoners or their estates.

In 2007, the DOC switched from Wexford Health Sources, based in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Corizon Health, located in Brentwood, Tennessee. Corizon is the nation’s largest private prison and jail health care provider.

By 2016, New Mexico prisoners had filed 150 lawsuits over inadequate care by Corizon and the DOC’s failure to audit the company, which had been awarded another four-year, $151 million contract in 2012. [See: PLN, Sept. 2017, p.32].

The DOC was able to produce records for just 20 of nearly 160 audits it should have completed between 2012 and 2015.

Dr. Bianca McDermott, Corizon’s chief of behavioral health in New Mexico, filed a Fraud-Against-the-Taxpayers Act complaint in 2013, citing the company’s low staffing levels and the DOC’s failure to do anything about them. Her complaint was investigated by then-Attorney General Gary King, but no charges were filed. Instead, McDermott claims she was “retaliated against, harassed, and ultimately terminated.” She filed a whistle-blower suit ...

$7,500 Settlement in Pennsylvania Prisoner’s Suicide

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PDOC) agreed to pay a meager $7,500 to settle a lawsuit that alleged its employees failed to properly treat a teenage prisoner’s mental health issues, resulting in her suicide.

Teasia M. Long was 17 on February 3, 2014 when she ignited rags doused with perfume and threw them on the stairs of the home she shared with her aunt and uncle while they slept. She left the house as it filled with smoke, but returned to retrieve two of the three dogs. According to an arrest affidavit, Long walked away as her uncle was on the roof screaming for help.

She told investigators in 2014 that she was trying to kill herself. On March 11, 2015, Long pleaded “guilty but mentally ill” to charges of attempted homicide and arson; she was sentenced to nine to 40 years in prison, and arrived at SCI Muncy nine days later.

Information that accompanied Long to prison indicated she was “particularly vulnerable to suicide.” A subsequent civil rights complaint filed by her aunt, Nancy Bickhart, said those records noted that Long suffered from “bipolarity, anxiety, depression, and PTSD.” She also had a history of substance abuse ...

News in Brief

Alabama: Antwone Wilson broke out of the St. Clair County Correctional Facility on December 4, 2017 along with fellow prisoner Ronald Odell King. The pair separated, and King was quickly captured. While on the lam, Wilson contacted a TV station in his hometown to clarify why he had run. “Basically, I escaped prison because I refuse to sit in prison for a crime I didn’t commit,” Wilson explained in an interview with WBRC-TV, before disappearing again for another five days. The U.S. Marshals Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force tracked him down at a Florida hotel, where Wilson surrendered without incident. Both prisoners now face additional escape charges.

California: Chase Ganey, a 25-year-old former participant in Humboldt County’s Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program (SWAP), lost his left hand in a logging accident while serving in the program in lieu of an eight-month jail term. On November 30, 2017, KIEM-TV reported that Ganey had hired attorney Eric Levine to pursue legal action against the county for his injury. “I had no instructions on the machine, never had seen a manual, never had even seen the machine in my life,” Ganey said. Doctors were able to reattach his hand, but ...