“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.” — Ray Bradbury
by Christopher Zoukis
In its landmark ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010) – which held political campaign spending is a form of protected speech – the U.S. Supreme Court noted the First Amendment is “[p]remised on mistrust of governmental power.” The Court has also held that such mistrust extends to bans on books and other reading materials, since “freedom of speech is not merely freedom to speak; it is also freedom to read.” See: King v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, 415 F.3d 634 (7th Cir. 2005).
In addition to the many other privations prisoners experience, they are often subjected to censorship of books, magazines and even correspondence by prison officials. As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit wrote, “The simple opportunity to read a book or write a letter, whether it expresses political views or absent affections, supplies a vital link between the inmate and the outside world, and nourishes the prisoner’s mind despite the blankness and bleakness of his environment.” See: Wolfish v ...
by Steve Horn
On September 14, 2018, Prison Legal News submitted a petition for writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving censorship by the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC), which has banned PLN statewide since 2009.
In October, eight friend of the court (amicus) briefs, on behalf of over 100 organizations and individuals, were filed on PLN’s behalf in support of its petition.
The cert petition followed an adverse May 17, 2018 ruling by the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, authored by Judge Ed Carnes, which upheld the district court’s judgment in favor of the FDOC on a First Amendment censorship claim, and in favor of PLN on a due process claim. The suit was filed against Florida prison officials in 2011 following an earlier, unsuccessful round of litigation over a similar issue. [See: PLN, Dec. 2011, p.32; Nov. 2005, p.29; Feb. 2004, p.27].
The appellate court found the FDOC’s censorship of PLN’s monthly publication was justified based on security concerns related to certain advertisements, including ads for pen pal services, businesses that purchase postage stamps and third-party phone services. The ruling was despite the fact that no other ...
Nurses at the Orange County jail in Orlando, Florida accused a pretrial detainee of “faking” the painful symptoms that led him to plead for medical care. In reality he had sepsis – blood poisoning caused by an untreated infection – that ended up killing him.
On August 6, 2015, Max Gracia was approached by police looking for a black suspect in the armed robbery of an Orlando convenience store. Gracia, 22, fled and dove into a lake, where he was subdued by police with the help of a K-9 dog, which bit him on the left leg and thigh. After receiving treatment for the dog bite at Orlando Regional Medical Center, he was booked into jail on a charge of armed robbery.
Three days later, Gracia complained of “weakness and dizziness.” When he was unable to get out of bed to receive medication at his cell door, jail nurse Karen Clairmont interpreted that inability as an “implicit refusal for medication.” She failed to further check on his condition.
Guard Connie Wambush was ordered to write a disciplinary report that said Gracia was exhibiting insubordination and feigning illness, because the nurses were convinced he was “faking or exaggerating his ...
by Paul Wright
You are reading the last issue of Prison Legal News for 2018. This month’s cover story reports on the widespread practice of prison and jail officials censoring books, magazines and correspondence sent to prisoners. Increasingly, that includes restrictions or bans on books mailed from non-profit, volunteer-run Books to Prisoners (BTP) programs around the country, which send free literature to prisoners.
The first BTP program began in Seattle in the early 1970s as part of Left Bank Books, a radical book collective that was active in the liberation struggles of the day, which is still around and mailing books to prisoners almost 50 years later.
HRDC has long had good working relationships with many of the nation’s BTP programs, starting with the fact that they sent me books while I was incarcerated. In the early days of Prison Legal News, many of our volunteers who folded, stapled and mailed our then 10-page, photocopied newsletter were also BTP volunteers, or vice versa. When BTP projects around the nation gathered in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois in 2007 for their first national conference, I was their keynote speaker. I frequently consult with BTP volunteers on censorship issues, and Michelle Dillon, our public records ...
by Dale Chappell
On July 30, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida denied a motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by Prisoner Transportation Services, LLC (PTS) and its subsidiary, U.S. Corrections, LLC (USC), in a lawsuit over inhumane conditions during the transport of more than 1,000 prisoners.
When Broward County, Florida filed charges against Jeffrey E. Groover, a federal prisoner housed at FCI Butner in North Carolina, the county contracted with USC to pick him up and extradite him to face the charges. During the 52-hour road trip, Groover was forced to sit in a “dog cage” as the van driver called it, which measured just 34 inches wide by 42 inches high. There was no air-conditioning and only one small vent. The van rarely stopped for breaks and Groover was allowed just one cup of water and some food every eight hours. After 24 hours into the trip, Groover suffered delusions and vomited. The driver gave him an extra cup of water. Due to the extreme heat, Groover had a heat stroke.
He filed a pro se lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in federal court against Broward ...
by Monte McCoin
Former prisoner Bobby Battle, an Oklahoma City native with a sixth-grade education who filed a lawsuit that ultimately led to historic reforms and the desegregation of Oklahoma prisons, died on December 25, 2017 at the age of 80.
“He must have just had native intelligence, one of those people who was educated even though they have poor formal education,” attorney Stephen Jones recalled. “Bobby just taught himself about federal civil rights and prison reform and the cases and went forward.”
In 1970, Battle was housed for two months in the “dungeon,” a subbasement area at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, after he filed a complaint with the warden about a 275-pound guard who beat a much smaller fellow prisoner. His experience led him to research and prepare a 1972 lawsuit that would continue making its way through the courts for nearly 30 years and become the most expensive prison litigation in state history.
That suit launched an FBI probe in 1974 that found understaffing, inadequate medical facilities, inadequate access to legal materials, racial segregation and discrimination, and unconstitutional limits on legal mail. The case was ultimately certified as a class-action after four other prisoners joined ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Catherine Hoke used to work on Wall Street, employed by a private equity firm. She left the world of high finance to start the Prison Entrepreneurship Program for Texas prisoners in 2004. But after five years Hoke was forced out and banned from all Texas prisons, after she admitted to having relationships with program graduates following their release.
Hoke is a big believer in second chances, though, so she gave herself one. In 2010 she founded Defy Ventures, a nonprofit dedicated to helping former prisoners stay out through training and mentorship to help them start their own businesses. Defy, based in New York City, now has programs in over 20 prisons and jails in Nebraska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, New York and – as of October 2018 – at the Monroe Correctional Complex in Washington State. It also has a large Internet presence, teaching business classes via online lectures. [See: PLN, Feb. 2018, p.20].
According to the organization, the recidivism rate for program graduates is less than five percent over a three-year tracking period, based on March 2018 data.
Defy Ventures, whose tagline is “Transforming your hustle,” has become a Silicon Valley darling, receiving grants from ...
by Christopher Zoukis
In December 2017, a federal judge denied a motion by GEO Group, the private operator of the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington, to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the state’s Attorney General, Bob Ferguson. The suit alleges that GEO violated the state’s minimum wage law by paying NWDC detainees just $1.00 per day for their labor at the facility. Washington’s minimum wage is currently $11.50 per hour.
GEO Group, based in Boca Raton, Florida, provides detention services at NWDC under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The company had requested that the court either add ICE as a co-defendant or dismiss the case. The court rejected both options.
“This is an important step toward holding this multibillion dollar company accountable for exploiting its detainee workers in Washington by not following our minimum wage laws,” Ferguson stated.
With 141 prisons and detention centers in operation worldwide, GEO’s gross revenue exceeded $2.26 billion in 2017. It has owned the 1,575-bed NWDC since 2005, operating it for ICE under a contract valued at $57 million annually. The facility houses immigrant detainees awaiting resolution of deportation cases, which are civil rather than criminal ...
by Derek Gilna
The U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey has certified a class-action lawsuit against Global Tel*Link (GTL), one of the nation’s largest prison telecom companies. According to the court, the plaintiffs – including prisoners and their family members – alleged violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, the Federal Communications Act, the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment and the New Jersey Public Utilities statute, as well as unjust enrichment.
Prison Legal News has extensively reported on the abusive arrangement whereby correctional agencies and telecom service providers enter into kickback-based monopoly contracts that result in inflated phone rates charged to prisoners and their families. [See, e.g.: PLN, Oct. 2018, p.1; Dec. 2013, p.1; April 2011, p.1].
The district court noted that in 2005, the New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC) sought bidders to provide Inmate Calling Services (ICS) at all state prisons. AT&T won the bid and assigned the contract to GTL.
Under the agreement, GTL was to pay the DOC “site commissions,” defined as “a straight percentage of all originating billable revenue.” Those fees, the court said, led to “higher calling rates, and incentivized GTL ...
by Grace Toohey, The Advocate
After more than 40 years as one of the most restrictive housing units within Louisiana’s Angola prison, corrections officials have closed Camp J – which at its peak confined more than 400 prisoners being disciplined in solitary cells for more than 23 hours a day.
While prison officials primarily cited the decades-old facility and its infrastructure for the closure, which they say had created safety issues after years of deterioration, advocates called the move a much-needed end to extremely detrimental conditions.
“The closure of Camp J is a positive step for Angola,” said Mercedes Montagnes, executive director of the New Orleans-based Promise of Justice Initiative, which has frequently worked on cases surrounding prison conditions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. “Camp J, which was more akin to a dungeon, was used to house individuals who were more in need of mental health treatment than disciplinary action.”
Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc said that while the closure made sense logistically, it also aligned with the department’s goal to improve segregated housing. The Louisiana Department of Corrections partnered in late 2016 with the Vera Institute of Justice, a national organization dedicated to improving the ...
by Dale Chappell
Douglas Cole, the former superintendent of the Cedar Creek Corrections Center in Thurston County, was quietly moved to another Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) position after a whistleblower exposed his alleged misuse of prison money.
An internal review found that about $145,000 of the prison’s purchases since July 2016 had been made without following the state’s guidelines for major expenditures. It was discovered that Cole would split up purchases to avoid having to get approval from the administration and to circumvent the bidding process.
The WDOC employee who outed Cole said she “became very concerned that what was being done was not right.” When she tried to get clarification on his purchases, she was reportedly intimidated by another prison employee.
Cole’s actions were “intended to hide/tuck money away to purchase goods without the proper approvals” and to purposefully avoid having to get administrative approval in order to bypass budget constraints, the internal review stated.
For example, a purchase of several furnaces for the prison was split into four billings; had they been billed together, approval from the WDOC’s central office would have been required. In another case, Cole bought $24,000 worth of mattresses ...
Within a year after a settlement was reached between the non-profit Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) and the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) to address violence at the St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville, three prisoners were killed and a guard was assaulted.
Following six homicides over a three-year period and an extraordinary high rate of violence at St. Clair, EJI filed a class-action lawsuit in 2014 to force ADOC officials to do more than just write reports chronicling dangerous conditions at the facility. There were 249 reported assaults at St. Clair in 2016.
The suit claimed that “mismanagement, poor leadership, overcrowding, inadequate security, and unsafe conditions, including broken and nonfunctioning locks on the majority of cell doors, have led to an extraordinarily high homicide rate, weekly stabbings and assaults, and a culture where violence is tolerated, creating conditions of confinement that violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.”
The October 2017 settlement in the case was intended to make the facility safer for prisoners.
“ADOC had agreed to make substantial changes, repairs and reforms that we believe will dramatically reduce the level of violence that exists and ameliorate the deplorable conditions at St. Clair,” ...
by Ed Lyon
Brandon Garwood was incarcerated at a jail in Cass County, Indiana in October 2015. He was being held on a charge of endangering another person while driving drunk.
On October 2, 2015, video cameras showed Garwood peacefully laying on his concrete slab bed when five jailers entered ...
by Matt Clarke
On December 19, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of a federal civil rights suit brought by a prisoner who alleged Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) officials ignored his warnings that rival gang members intended to kill him, and his requests not to be housed with large numbers of the rival gang.
Terrance D. Wilson, a member of the Crips, is serving a 33-year sentence in the CDOC for the murder of a member of the Surenos, a rival gang. While in jail, Wilson learned that the Surenos, led by Christopher Green, were making shanks to kill him in retaliation. He was attacked three times while at the Larimer County Detention Center.
After arriving at the CDOC’s Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center, Wilson was assaulted by a Surenos member. He told intake staff about his problems with the rival gang and was transferred to the Limon Correctional Facility (LCF).
According to Wilson, soon after arriving at LCF he encountered Green, who was the Surenos’ local shot caller at that prison. He informed intake Lieutenant James Fox and Sgt. Steven Frank about “the issues” between him and Green. He also told his case manager ...
by Kevin Bliss
Employees at the Lackawanna County Prison (LCP) in Scranton, Pennsylvania have been under a year-long investigation into the sexual abuse of women prisoners at the facility. The culture of abuse, said to have continued for over a decade, is so pervasive that those accused include the highest-ranking ...
by Christopher Zoukis
On June 29, 2018, a federal jury awarded over $17 million to a Chicago man who spent 21 years in a maximum-security prison for a murder he did not commit.
Jacques Rivera, now 52, was convicted of the 1988 gangland killing of 16-year-old Felix Valentin. The only ...
by R. Bailey
An audit recommended replacing outdated data management software used by Louisiana’s prison system with a previously-rejected upgrade, if the new system could be salvaged. The upgrade would help implement the Justice Reinvestment Act (Act), which was designed to reduce Louisiana’s prison population by 10 percent and its corrections budget by $262 million over the next decade.
The Act was signed into law by Governor John Bel Edwards on November 1, 2017 in an attempt to reduce the state’s extremely high incarceration rate and associated costs, by granting early release, parole or probation to more prisoners and by instituting other reforms.
The governor’s spokeswoman, Shauna Sanford, asserted the Act was “an opportunity to effect real change for ... citizens and communities.”
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator opposed the Act. Landry accused the governor of continuing to pursue policies that “don’t make our state safer or benefit our hard-working taxpayers,” while Prator cited inaccurate tracking data as proof the new law was enacted too soon.
Sheriff Practor relied on an October 25, 2017 audit of the Louisiana Department of Corrections (DOC) to support his opposition to the Act. The Louisiana State Auditor ...
by Matt Clarke
On June 8, 2018, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) announced new measures to prevent another murder from occurring on its transport buses.
Those measures included replacing a “significant number” of buses with new vehicles featuring factory-installed camera systems to monitor passengers and separate compartments for three security levels – including segregation compartments to isolate prisoners who pose “an extraordinary safety risk.” The ODRC also said it would increase training of transportation officers, expand random checks of restraints and add GPS tracking to its transport vehicles.
The new measures were spurred by the strangulation death of prisoner David Johnson, 61, by Casey Pigge, 30, on a bus traveling between Columbus and Ross County on February 1, 2017. The murder went unnoticed by guards and the ODRC has refused to release an internal report on the incident.
According to other prisoners, Pigge, who was restrained and sitting in the back of the bus, slipped off his belly chain, moved up three rows and wrapped the three-foot chain around Johnson’s neck. Witnesses said Pigge pulled so hard on the chain that Johnson was lifted out of his seat. After checking Johnson’s pulse to make sure he ...
In April 2017, former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez hanged himself in his cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts. His death focused the attention of state authorities, and the public, on the problem of prisoner suicides.
Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson expressed surprise and shock at the news, having had several conversations with Hernandez at the jail. The state’s longest-serving sheriff, first elected in 1988, Hodgson enjoyed brief national fame when he offered to supply prisoner labor to build a wall for President Trump on the U.S.-Mexico border. He was then invited by the GOP majority to address the U.S. House on “sanctuary cities,” offering his opinion that officials in such jurisdictions should be jailed.
Following Hernandez’s suicide, a Boston Globe article cited data from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Justice, that ranked Massachusetts fourth among state prison systems for suicides, with a rate of 32 per 100,000 prisoners – twice the national average between 2001 and 2014.
In 2017, fourteen Massachusetts prisoners committed suicide – four in state prisons and 10 in county jails. State Senator Jamie Eldridge – whose district ...
by Kevin W. Bliss
In June 2018, a death penalty task force commissioned by Pennsylvania’s General Assembly in 2012 finally released its report. Finding that neither judicial economy nor fairness is served – because 97 percent of all capital cases are converted to lesser sentences after post-conviction judicial review – the task force recommended disqualifying mentally ill prisoners and the intellectually disabled from the death penalty, instituting a process to review the proportionality of capital sentences and creating a state-funded capital defender office.
The last recommendation resulted from a finding that private counsel represented just 20 percent of death row prisoners. The other 80 percent were represented by “indigent defense practitioners,” some of whom “failed to meet professional standards.” Pennsylvania has no statewide office of public defenders, relying instead on each county to maintain its own.
“The public defenders that get worse results are public defender offices in the counties that are not nearly as well resourced and not nearly as well trained,” said Marc Bookman, co-director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation.
As a result, the task force noted that capital defendants “receive poor representation, resulting in reversible errors and, in some cases, the risk of convicting ...
by Monte McCoin
On April 10, 2018, a group of gunmen attacked the Santa Izabel Prison Complex near the northern Brazilian city of Belem. The state security service said 21 people were killed in the military-style assault on the facility. One guard was killed; government officials identified prisoners and outside collaborators as comprising the rest of the deaths. In addition to the fatalities, at least four guards were injured in the mass escape attempt, one seriously.
According to a statement from Brazilian officials, “The attempt was supported by an extremely heavily armed group. According to preliminary reports, the prisoners also had weapons inside the prison.” Police investigator Rodrigo Leao said investigators ultimately recovered two assault weapons, three handguns and two other firearms.
The Secretariat of Public Security and Social Defense for the state of Pará said the attack began with “explosions at one of the prison’s walls.” An intense gun battle then ensued, with volleys exchanged from both within and outside the facility.
According to a report from NPR, some prisoners managed to escape but officials did not release the results of a headcount conducted after the chaos ended.
As previously reported in PLN, Brazil has one of ...
by Christopher Zoukis
In what could be the fastest injunction ever granted in a prison-related case, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton issued a temporary retraining order in favor of Muslim prisoners mere hours after they filed a lawsuit alleging that Washington prison officials were refusing to honor fasting requirements during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
The lawsuit, filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) on behalf of four men held at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe, said the facility’s rigidly enforced Ramadan sign-up policy resulted in some Muslims not being able to eat. According to CAIR, the four prisoners lost an average of 20 pounds each between the beginning of Ramadan in mid-May and the day the lawsuit was filed on June 10, 2018.
One of the plaintiffs, Jeremy Livingston, said he arrived at the prison after the Ramadan sign-up date at the end of January, and was denied meals despite requesting them when he got there.
Other prisoners who were denied Ramadan meals resorted to “stealing” their regular meals so they could be consumed between sundown and sunrise, as required by their religion. But when guards learned that non-approved Muslims were in possession of ...
by Derek Gilna
On July 18, 2018 the New York City Council passed Introduction No. 741-A, which ended the practice of telecom companies profiting from providing phone services for prisoners at inflated rates. Instead, all domestic calls made from the city’s jail system, including the Rikers Island complex, will be free for both prisoners and those receiving the calls.
For over a decade, prisoners’ rights advocates have fought against the exorbitant costs of prison and jail phone calls. [See, e.g.: PLN, Oct. 2018, p.1; Dec. 2013, p.1; April 2011, p.1]. A percentage of the revenue generated from prisoner calls is typically returned to the corrections agency that contracts with the telecom company. That was the arrangement New York City had with its jail phone service provider, Securus Technologies, which gave the city $5 million in annual “commission” kickbacks, resulting in inflated phone rates.
The legislation passed by the City Council states: “The city shall provide telephone services to individuals within the custody of the department in city correctional facilities at no cost to the individuals or the receiving parties for domestic telephone calls. The city shall not be authorized to receive or retain any revenue for ...
by Ed Lyon
The Wisconsin Department of Corrections has employed a unique method to reduce the number of seriously mentally ill prisoners being housed in solitary confinement: Their mental health classification competency levels were administratively changed without an assessment or input from mental health professionals.
When Wisconsin DOC psychologist Bradley Boivin returned to work from medical leave in 2016, he discovered classification changes had been made regarding 13 of the prisoners assigned to his caseload at the Waupun Correctional Institution.
He learned that the reclassifications were instituted pursuant to a memo issued in July 2015 from DOC Deputy Secretary Cathy Jess. Jess had instructed “psychology staff to reassess the mental health classification of the most seriously ill inmates in solitary confinement.” That is, they were not to reassess the prisoners’ actual mental health, but rather their “classification.”
As a result, the DOC could report that fewer seriously mentally ill prisoners were being held in solitary – not because they had been released from segregation, but rather because they were no longer classified as seriously mentally ill. According to one Wisconsin prisoner, Rayshun Woods, prisoners with the highest mental illness classification, MH-2, were being downgraded “just so they will ...
by David M. Reutter
In March 2018, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) agreed not to set another execution date for death row prisoner Doyle Lee Hamm. The settlement resolved a lawsuit that followed a failed attempt to execute Hamm, 61, on February 22, 2018.
Hamm was sentenced to die for the execution-style murder of Cullman hotel clerk Patrick Cunningham, which occurred during a 1987 robbery.
In the seven months that preceded the attempted execution, Hamm’s attorney, Columbia Law School professor Bernard Harcourt, warned ADOC officials that Hamm had no accessible veins. Harcourt even proposed an alternative method of execution by oral lethal injection, but the ADOC refused.
Years of drug use, as well as chemotherapy following a February 2014 diagnosis of large-cell lymphoma cancer and B-cell carcinoma, had left Hamm with deeply compromised veins and abnormalities in his lymph nodes. As a result, Harcourt warned that an attempt at intravenous lethal injection would amount to cruel and unusual punishment in Hamm’s case.
U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor agreed, but they were the minority who dissented to the Court’s denial of Harcourt’s request to stay the execution – a decision handed down the same ...
by Ed Lyon
Parole is generally defined as conditional release from prison before a sentence has expired. But in New Mexico, every month dozens of “release-eligible” offenders join a pool of paroled state prisoners who nevertheless remain incarcerated. Called “in-house parole,” the practice affects nearly 1,000 prisoners a year at an estimated cost of $10.6 million annually. [See: PLN, Aug. 2016, p.42].
The problem is especially acute for New Mexico’s female prisoners. Women make up a little over 10 percent of the prison population – a percentage that is steadily growing. There are fewer release facilities available for female parolees per capita than their male counterparts; as a result, up to two-and-a-half times as many female parolees as male parolees remained in prison at the end of the 2017 fiscal year.
Missing paperwork and administrative backlogs are sometimes to blame. At the Northwestern New Mexico Correctional Facility near Grants, documents exchanged by the state Corrections Department (DOC) and private prison operator CoreCivic (formerly CCA) indicated that caseworkers at the facility failed to submit files to the parole board – which is separate from the DOC – in time for the expected release date of prisoner Joleen ...
by Laura Whitehorn
This issue of Prison Legal News is dedicated to Mujahid Farid.
Farid, 69, who died of cancer on November 20, 2018 in the Bronx, New York, often said he was only one of many people who spend their years in prison learning. Farid obtained his GED while awaiting trial, then earned four college and graduate level degrees in prison. He became a brilliant jailhouse lawyer, suing New York’s prison system for the myriad illegal, brutal punishments they added to his 15-to-life sentence, and often winning.
Denied parole nine times, he was released in 2011 after serving 33 years. While incarcerated he applied his legal brilliance to freeing the long-termers he left behind, founding Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) with other formerly incarcerated people and allies. He received an Open Society Soros Justice Fellowship in 2013, as well as a commendation from New York’s legislature and an award for social activism from Citizens Against Recidivism.
Using his legal acumen, enormous heart and courage, he made RAPP’s mission of releasing elderly prisoners a way to challenge the racist system of permanent punishment that fuels mass incarceration. He inspired formerly incarcerated people, academics, social justice advocates, faith leaders, former ...
by Christopher Zoukis
They say money can’t buy happiness, and more money just leads to more problems. But when it comes to the criminal justice system, wealth can get an accused murderer out on bail, a celebrity a great plea deal and a sex offender an upgraded jail stay.
The money bail system is a classic example of the difference that wealth makes in our nation’s justice system. When real estate tycoon Tiffany Li was charged with orchestrating the murder of her children’s father in 2017, bail was set at $35 million – a record amount for San Mateo County, California. Not a problem – Li, her family and friends are loaded, and quickly came up with $66 million in cash and real estate to make her bond. Li was picked up from jail by a bodyguard and whisked away in a Cadillac Escalade. [See: PLN, Feb. 2018, p.60].
Meanwhile, in New York, there are people who have been accused of petty crimes languishing in jail because they cannot post $1.00 in bail. Literally one dollar.
Having money can get you a better plea deal, too. In Palm Beach, Florida, “Real Housewives of New York” star Luann de ...
by Christopher Zoukis
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a mentally ill prisoner who spent 11 years in solitary confinement and had a history of attempted self-harm could plausibly allege that continued segregation would place him in imminent danger of serious physical injury. The ruling overturned a district court’s order to the contrary, and the case was allowed to proceed.
Maurice L. Wallace, serving life without parole, attacked a guard in 2006. He was placed in solitary confinement, where he continued to remain 11 years later. Wallace is seriously mentally ill and during his time in solitary has been litigious.
The appeal under review by the Seventh Circuit involved allegations that prolonged isolation exacerbated Wallace’s mental illness, increased his risk of suicide and violated his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Because Wallace asked for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, the district court reviewed his litigation history for compliance with the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).
The PLRA’s “three strikes” provision prohibits a prisoner from proceeding with a civil action in forma pauperis when, on three or more previous occasions, a federal court has dismissed a lawsuit or ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Several state prison systems are facing a dilemma: too many prisoners and not enough beds. An increasingly popular solution to this problem is to transfer prisoners to facilities in other states, sometimes thousands of miles away, where there is surplus bed space available. That extra space is typically found in private, for-profit prisons.
In February 2018, Idaho announced the transfer of 250 men from medium- and high-security state prisons to the Karnes County Correctional Center in Texas. The 550-bed facility is operated by private prison firm GEO Group. Denise Tyler, founder of the Idaho Inmate Family Support Group, said her organization has received dozens of letters from prisoners protesting the move.
“They feel like they’re being punished and their overall morale has dropped because they have been ripped away from their family and support system,” Tyler stated.
According to the Idaho Department of Correction (DOC), the prisoners will remain at the Texas facility until the state executes a long-term contract to house up to 1,000 prisoners in out-of-state facilities. Henry Atencio, director of the DOC, said his department is out of better options.
“We wish we didn’t have to send inmates out of state; we ...
by Kevin W. Bliss
A July 2018 report by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found the number of alleged incidents of sexual victimization among state and federal prisoners increased 180 percent from 2011 to 2015. However, the number of substantiated claims grew just 63 percent during that same time period.
The Sexual Victimization Report by Adult Correctional Authorities was first authorized in 2003 with the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). But the standards that govern which incidents are reported took until 2012 to be adopted by the U.S. Department of Justice. [See: PLN, Nov. 2017, p.1; Sept. 2013, p.1].
Part of the lengthy delay could be attributed to PREA requirements that prisons and jails create partnerships with local rape crisis centers, which are supposed to provide support services to incarcerated victims of sexual assault – from a rape crisis hotline to in-person counseling. Correctional facilities also had to develop programs to educate staff and prisoners about sexual victimization. Other sections of PREA address such issues as prevention planning, responsive planning, collecting data and conducting audits.
The PREA standards require detention facilities to give prisoners multiple ways to report sexual victimization, which includes ...
by Kevin Bliss
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a lawsuit filed by Pennsylvania state prisoner Gregory L. Ricks against Paul Keil and D. Shover, guards at SCI Graterford, after his case was dismissed by a district court for failure to state a claim.
Ricks was on his way to Graterford’s law library during morning movement when he was stopped and subjected to a pat-down search by Keil. Ricks stated that Keil pressed his erect penis against his buttocks during the search, and claimed it could be seen on the surveillance tapes of that area.
Ricks said he immediately stepped away and turned to Keil’s supervisor, Lt. D. Shover, who was overseeing the pat-down. He told Shover that Keil had just sexually assaulted him. Shover became belligerent and slammed Ricks against the wall, resulting in a black eye, busted nose and lips, and injuries to his head, neck and back. Ricks said Shover then cuffed him and returned him to his cell.
The district court held that one incident of minor sexual touching did not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. Further, Shover’s failure to intervene did not constitute participation in the incident, and Ricks’ allegations of ...
A three-party land swap has apparently cleared a logjam that has left the Wayne County jail in Detroit unfinished since 2013. The county commission voted in June 2018 to ratify a deal made by County Executive Warren Evans with the City of Detroit and a company owned by billionaire developer Dan Gilbert, who also owns the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA franchise.
Construction was halted on the county’s new consolidated criminal justice center in June 2013 after overruns threatened to push the project’s cost to $391 million – nearly double its $220 million budget. The project has sat uncompleted while the county searched for a way forward. Only one bidder – Walsh Construction – responded to a request for proposals to complete the existing project, which sits on Gratiot Avenue in downtown Detroit.
Under the deal, city officials will swap a 13-acre site north of downtown for a county-owned property on the city’s west side, which served as headquarters for American Motors Corp. before it was acquired by Chrysler Corp. in 1985. The county will then give Gilbert’s firm, Rock Ventures, the completed buildings in the failed jail project, selling the firm the rest of the land. In turn, Rock Ventures will ...
by Dale Chappell
As his resignation was about to take effect late on June 1, 2018, scandal-plagued Missouri Governor Eric Greitens pardoned five convicted felons, commuted the sentences of four others and signed 77 new bills into law – including one that makes it illegal to post the same type of “revenge porn” that led to his own downfall.
Had he remained in office, Greitens may have become Missouri’s first governor to be impeached by the legislature, where he faced charges of official misconduct after a recording surfaced of a phone call he made to his hairdresser’s husband, claiming he had taken partially nude photos of the woman and threatening to release them if she exposed her 2015 affair with Greitens, who is also married. The new law that Greitens signed before leaving office makes it a crime to electronically transmit a compromising photo of a person without their consent.
An investigation by the office of Attorney General Josh Hawley also discovered that Greitens’ 2016 campaign illegally solicited contributions from people who made donations to a veterans charity the governor had started in 2007, called Mission Continues.
In April 2018, a St. Louis grand jury indicted Greitens on a felony ...
by Kevin W. Bliss
Most Americans were taught that slavery was banned in 1865 with the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But prisoner rights advocates note that the amendment’s exception clause actually allowed slavery to persist – in prisons.
The Thirteenth Amendment prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude, “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” Following the Civil War, states in the vanquished Confederacy worried that their war-torn economies would be overwhelmed by the increased cost of production incurred by plantation owners forced to pay market wages for labor since they could no longer own slaves.
But under the Thirteenth Amendment, with a workforce composed of prisoners not entitled to wages, the Southern states realized they could lease prisoners to plantations at low cost, saving them money while generating revenue for prison coffers. To this day, prisoners harvest crops at gunpoint in facilities like the Angola prison in Louisiana and the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.
A 2014 survey for the National Center for Education statistics found that 61 percent of the nation’s 1.5 million state and federal prisoners were employed – mostly in low-paid institutional support ...
by Christopher Zoukis
In an unpublished June 7, 2018 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit partially reversed a district court’s ruling that Cowlitz County, Washington was entitled to summary judgment in a case that alleged county jail officials violated the civil rights of three detainees who died within a nine-month period.
The estates of Stephanie Deal, Jenny Lynn Borelis and Daniel D. Bush filed claims against Cowlitz County and Corrections Director Marin Fox Hight in federal court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. They argued the policies and customs at the jail posed a substantial risk of serious harm, which resulted in the deaths of the three detainees.
The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants, citing a failure by the plaintiffs to present evidence to support their claims. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit partially reversed that order. In doing so, it cited a recent decision that compelled that result – Gordon v. County of Orange, 888 F.3d 1118 (9th Cir. 2018) [PLN, Oct. 2018, p.48].
According to the appellate court, Gordon changed the individual liability standard for medical-needs claims involving a pretrial detainee. Because it was now possible that “reckless ...
by Monte McCoin
In November 2017, a U.S. District Court judge set a February 2019 trial date in a civil suit to resolve allegations that CoreCivic – formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America – failed to prevent the sexual assault of a teenage boy with developmental disabilities while he was housed at the Citrus County Detention Facility in Lecanto, Florida.
According to the complaint, the child, identified in court documents as C.W., was not properly screened for risk of sexual victimization during intake at the privately-operated jail on May 18, 2016. “Despite having the knowledge that [the boy] was mentally disabled and highly vulnerable to sexual assault, [the boy] was placed in an adult jail facility where other inmates were provided the opportunity to bully [him],” the complaint states.
The child’s mother, Lesley Butzer, who filed the suit on C.W.’s behalf, alleged that her son was raped by at least one male prisoner between October 3 and October 5, 2016, and that CoreCivic officials prohibited contact between the mother and son following the attack.
The suit seeks more than $75,000 in damages. Neither the attorney for the plaintiff nor CoreCivic’s lawyers commented about ...
by Derek Gilna
The Brookings Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based research group, has published a study that demonstrates, through empirical data, what many have long suspected: That extreme poverty leads to increased crime rates. The same study, “Work and Opportunity Before and After Incarceration,” published on March 14, 2018, also confirms that a criminal record “imposes impediments to employment” despite tax incentives for businesses that hire former prisoners.
Most criminal justice experts contend that “successful reintegration requires employment and economic opportunities,” and that high recidivism rates are often caused by lack of meaningful employment. Since 2012, the federal Bureau of Prisons and state prison directors were tasked with providing incarceration data and identifying information for prisoners to the Internal Revenue Service – a process that accumulated data on 2.9 million prisoners, making an analysis of post-incarceration employment possible.
However, the Brookings report focused not only on the challenges faced by reintegrating former prisoners, but also on policies that might improve the lives of young children and keep them off the criminal justice treadmill.
According to the study, for individuals living in lower-income areas, “Three years prior to incarceration, only 49 percent of prime-age men are employed ...
by Kevin Bliss
The family of former Missouri prisoner George Allen received a $14 million settlement in a wrongful conviction suit filed against the state, the City of St. Louis and others responsible for his illegal imprisonment.
Mary Bell was raped and murdered in her LaSalle apartment in 1982. Police focused on Kirk Eaton, a known sex offender, as a possible suspect. George Allen was picked up several weeks later because he was walking through the neighborhood and resembled Eaton. According to the complaint, it was readily apparent that Allen was mentally ill and that police officials, including Terry James and Mark Burford, “saw an opportunity to close what had become an emotionally charged case.”
The complaint alleged that Allen’s confession was coerced and crucial forensic evidence was withheld. It added that Allen was fed information by James and Burford about the crime scene that only the perpetrator would know; the officers then had Allen repeat that information in his taped confession to make it appear he was guilty. They also suppressed semen found at the crime scene because it did not match Allen’s blood type.
Allen was convicted and spent 30 years in prison while asserting his innocence ...
by Ed Lyon
Correct Care Solutions (CCS) is one of the nation’s largest for-profit healthcare providers for prisoners, with annual revenue exceeding $1 billion. The Nashville, Tennessee-based firm supplies medical and mental health services to more than 100 state and federal prisons and 330 jails in 38 states, plus immigration detention centers. It also has operations in Australia.
Over the years, CCS has acquired several other prison medical providers, including Correctional Healthcare Companies, ConMed, Physicians Network Association and the mental health care subsidiary of private prison company GEO Group.
According to October 2018 news reports, CCS has been named as a defendant in at least 1,395 federal lawsuits since 2003 – most of which were dismissed. There is no way to aggregate the number of suits filed in state courts nationwide. At least 28 medical-related deaths have occurred at facilities where CCS provides healthcare. [See: PLN, Sept. 2018, p.32].
A lawsuit over one of those deaths was filed by the mother of Kendra Nelson, who died at a jail in Portsmouth, Virginia in July 2016. Nelson began suffering from heroin withdrawal the morning after her arrest. A deputy documented her withdrawal symptoms, but CCS staff medically cleared her ...
A Michigan federal jury found a guard at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility (GHCF) had assaulted a prisoner and tried to cover it up, and awarded $16,500 in damages.
Ali Muthana was being served a meal in his confinement cell at GHCF, which houses mentally ill prisoners, on March ...
by Christopher Zoukis
The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) houses over 181,400 prisoners in more than 120 facilities nationwide. As a rule, federal prisons are overcrowded and understaffed. With the Trump administration demanding a 12 to 14 percent workforce reduction – which equates to 5,000 to 6,000 BOP job positions, including an estimated 1,800 guards – the Bureau has become more reliant on two controversial practices: augmentation and privatization.
BOP policy states that all employees are regarded as “correctional workers first.” As such, when a required security post is vacant, civilian workers may be forced into what the Bureau calls “augmentation.” In practice this means nurses, secretaries, teachers and other non-security staff are given keys, handcuffs and a radio, and directed to fill guard posts. [See: PLN, May 2017, p.12].
Kristan Morgan, a nurse practitioner at a federal prison in Tallahassee, said she has been required to report for guard duty in scrubs and running shoes.
“We get a radio and set of keys, and we don’t know which keys fit which doors,” she related.
Augmentation is supposed to be reserved for emergency situations. But an article in USA Today reported increasing ...
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that garnishment actions are “suits” for Eleventh Amendment purposes. That holding compelled the appellate court to find a prisoner could not pursue a garnishment motion in federal court to redirect funds to satisfy a $200,000 judgment against a Georgia state prison guard.
David Cassady brought suit on January 21, 2014 against Steven Hall, a guard at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison; he alleged that in October 2010, “Hall physically and sexually attacked” him at the facility. The case proceeded to trial and the jury found Hall liable, awarding Cassady $150,000 in compensatory damages plus $50,000 in punitive damages.
After the district court entered the judgment, Cassady moved the court to issue a writ of garnishment, ordering the State of Georgia to redirect to him the funds the state was to pay Hall under Georgia’s General Liability Agreement (GLA), which indemnifies state employees for judgments arising out of the performance of their official duties.
The district court denied the motion, finding Georgia had not waived its Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity with respect to garnishment actions. Alternatively, Hall’s indemnification rights under the GLA did not constitute a “property interest.”
by Derek Gilna
More than a half-million Americans are homeless on any given day, and for the five million ex-prisoners in the U.S., the rate of homelessness is almost 10 times higher than among the general population. According to a report issued by the Prison Policy Initiative in August 2018, “up to 15% of incarcerated people experience homelessness in the year before admission to prison,” and that problem only gets more difficult to solve following their release from custody.
The report, which was based on 2008 survey data, found that “rates of homelessness are especially high among ... people who have been incarcerated more than once, people recently released from prison, [and] people of color.” Former prisoners are frequent users of homeless shelters, motels, hotels and other forms of temporary housing, the report stated.
Unfortunately, the rate of homelessness increases the more times someone has been incarcerated. First-time offenders are homeless seven times more often than the general public, but for those jailed more than once the homeless rate rises to 13 times that of the public.
Homelessness is statistically more of a problem for black women, who have a rate nearly four times higher than white men ...
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that a district court abused its discretion when it denied a Wisconsin prisoner’s repeated motions to recruit counsel.
Before the appellate court was a case involving prisoner Randy McCaa, whose 2016 civil rights complaint alleged that prison officials at the Green Bay Correctional Institution were deliberately indifferent to his risk of attempting suicide, causing him to suffer serious physical injuries on four different occasions.
McCaa filed four motions to recruit counsel. All repeated the initial motion’s claim that the issues in the case were complex, with several different claims involving different sets of defendants, and that the case would come down to a “credibility contest.” He also indicated that he had a serious mental illness, a fifth-grade reading level, little legal knowledge and, since he was in segregation, extremely limited access to the law library and witnesses.
The initial motion to recruit counsel was filed with the complaint; the second was filed a month later, and stated McCaa had been transferred to another prison and did not know where his witness was located. The district court denied the motions, finding McCaa had demonstrated an ability to communicate his arguments and submit court ...
by Derek Gilna
A New York state prisoner’s civil rights case proceeded to trial in federal district court after the judge denied the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision’s motion for summary judgment in part on March 15, 2018, while dismissing some of the plaintiff’s claims.
Michael Gonzalez had filed his pro se lawsuit in 2014, alleging that while confined in the Adirondack Correctional Facility’s Special Housing Unit (SHU), prison officials denied him the right to practice his Native American religious beliefs.
Gonzalez’s complaint alleged a First Amendment free exercise claim, an Eighth Amendment claim, an equal protection claim under the Fourteenth Amendment and a claim under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). After the district court had preliminarily dismissed most of the defendants named in the initial complaint, it appointed counsel for Gonzalez and discovery was reopened.
The remaining defendants then moved for summary judgment, arguing that Gonzalez had not exhausted his administrative remedies prior to raising his equal protection claim. The court rejected that argument, finding the defendants had received fair notice of Gonzalez’s claims that he had been denied the right to wear beads with religious significance, to build a religious ...
by David M. Reutter
In a show of continued support for privately-operated prisons, the Florida legislature considered giving the state’s for-profit prison contractors a $4 million raise.
The GEO Group, MTC and CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, have had contracts to operate prisons in Florida since the 1990s. While state law requires a seven percent savings to comparable public prisons, that cost analysis is flawed and not given serious consideration. [See: PLN, Jan. 2018, p.52; March 2011, p.36].
The most important consideration is apparently campaign contributions. The GEO Group, which operates four facilities in Florida, is a major contributor to the Republican Party and state GOP candidates. In 2016 alone the company gave almost $2 million in political donations, including $40,000 to Senate President Joe Negron and $100,000 to the Florida Republican Senatorial Committee.
State Senator Jeff Brandes, who chairs the Criminal Justice Budget Committee, defended the increase in payments to for-profit prison firms as being a matter of fairness.
“The issue here is that a couple of years ago we raised salaries for correctional officers in our public facilities, but we never extended that pay increase to correctional officers in private facilities,” he ...
by R. Bailey
In March 2018, a federal grand jury returned an 11-count indictment against Mississippi County, Missouri Sheriff Cory Hutcheson. Hutcheson, 34, already faced robbery charges as well as a wrongful death suit filed by the mother of a prisoner who died at the county lockup.
At the request of Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, a judge revoked Hutcheson’s peace officer license in May 2017 – just over a year after he was elected sheriff, vowing to clean up crime in the southeastern county of 14,000 people. Prior to taking office, Hutcheson served as a sheriff’s deputy overseeing the local jail.
The federal indictments, all for identity theft, stemmed from a 2014 incident in which Hutcheson forged documents so he could illegally “ping” the cell phones of a judge, five state troopers and the then-sheriff, in order to track their whereabouts. By the time he was arrested, Sheriff Hutcheson was also wanted for state charges, including first-degree robbery and assault.
Those charges resulted from a March 2017 incident at Joyce’s Beauty Shop in East Prairie, where Hutcheson’s sister-in-law had worked until she left to open her own salon. The shop owner demanded the return of appointment calendars and ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Over four decades ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976) that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment guarantees prisoners the right to be free from “deliberate indifference” to their “serious medical needs” – a right that extends to dental care. But the interpretation of that ruling has led to widespread complaints about the quality of dental treatment that prisoners receive.
As Texas A&M dental professor Dr. Jay Shulman recently said, prison medical care, including dental care, “violates the constitution only when it’s so bad that it is ... reckless, deliberate indifference to a serious medical need.”
“For the most part, prison systems are not worried about inadequate [dental] care,” he added. “Prisons are typically not going to do any more than they have to to comply with the Eighth Amendment, which means the care doesn’t have to be good. It just has to not be so bad as to constitute deliberate indifference and infliction of pain. That’s the correctional standard.”
Dr. Nicholas Makrides, the U.S. Public Health Services’ chief dental officer, who also serves as chief dentist for the federal Bureau of ...
The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee agreed to pay $550,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging a guard at the Davidson County Male Correctional Development Center (CDC) used excessive force on a pretrial detainee, leaving him a quadriplegic.
Edgar Mhoon was arrested in April 2015 following a ...
Arizona: On March 16, 2018, the Arizona Department of Corrections issued a report that concluded private prison operator CoreCivic (formerly CCA) had properly responded to a February 25, 2018 riot at the Red Rock Correctional Center. The two-hour “major disturbance,” which left 13 prisoners and two staff members with injuries that required transport to local hospitals, initially started with altercations between several groups of African American and Hispanic prisoners. The state, which billed CoreCivic almost $6,000 for emergency response costs, ultimately determined the company’s “quick response to the incident, which involved inmate-on-inmate fighting, minimized injuries to prison personnel and inmates while maintaining public safety,” and praised the for-profit firm for acting in accordance with state policies, contractual obligations and tactical priorities. In May 2017, another brawl broke out at Red Rock, resulting in at least four prisoners suffering injuries. [See: PLN, Dec. 2017, p.63].
Arkansas: Mikel Short, 46, Kevin Eugene Burch, 31, and Cindy Marie Piatt, 28, who conspired to smuggle drugs into the Baxter County Detention Center, were all charged with numerous felonies when their plan was thwarted. Burch was identified through surveillance video as the person who visited the jail and attempted to deliver ...