by Jimmy Jenkins, KJZZ.org
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.
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 ...
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 ...
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. § ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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).
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 ...
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 ...
by Jean Trounstine, Truthout.org
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 ...
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 ...
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.’” ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
“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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...