by Karen Dillon, The Pitch
Each day, as she prepared herself to work another shift at the Missouri Department of Corrections prison, Lashonda Reid knew to expect one thing.
It would be bad.
Reid had been called a “n****r,” a “token n****r,” “sexual chocolate.” She ...
by Derek Gilna
The Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC), roiled by a series of lawsuits and settlements related to workplace sexual harassment of female employees, has been called “dysfunctional” by a special state legislative committee investigating DOC operations. Responding to a report by The Pitch magazine that detailed millions in ...
by Paul Wright
This month’s cover story delves into the sexual harassment of Missouri DOC employees by their co-workers. As we see from recent news reports, relatively powerful men in the media and entertainment industry resign or get fired because they either can’t or won’t keep their comments or hands to themselves, or venture into outright sexual assault and rape. This makes me wonder when – or if – that degree of accountability will be applied to the American police state.
Over the years, PLN has repeatedly reported on sexual harassment and assault of prison and jail employees by their colleagues and co-workers. The largest sexual harassment and wage discrimination case in Connecticut history was, not surprisingly, against the state’s Department of Correction. Likewise, the largest reverse sexual harassment jury award in New Jersey involved a female lieutenant who demanded sex from a male subordinate.
In reviewing verdicts and settlements against prisons and jails, the most significant awards and payouts tend to involve employee litigation – and as jaded as we might be at PLN, the behavior of corrections staff towards their own is truly appalling even in the context of routine abuse and neglect of prisoners. The big takeaway ...
by Derek Gilna
The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the parent organization of Prison Legal News, filed a complaint on January 12, 2018 seeking class-action status in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The lawsuit alleges unlawful and exploitative practices by JPay, Inc., Sunrise Banks National Association and the bank’s credit card processor, Praxell Processing, in forcing fee-laden debit cards on prisoners being released from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).
The CDCR is required by statute to provide released offenders with the funds in their prison trust accounts, plus $200 in “gate money” if they have been in custody for more than six months. In the past those funds were returned in the form of a check, but the CDCR now requires all prisoners to receive the money on a prepaid debit card, and JPay has a monopoly contract to provide the cards.
Unfortunately, the fee-laden debit cards have placed yet another burden on offenders struggling to reintegrate into society upon their release. The fees associated with the JPay cards include $1.00 for declined point-of-sale or ATM transactions, $5.00 to replace lost or stolen cards, a $3.00 monthly “maintenance ...
by Derek Gilna
On June 16, 2017, Dianna Reynolds, a former employee at the Boyd County Detention Center in Kentucky, settled her lawsuit against jailer Joe Burchett over sexual harassment by a supervisor. The county agreed to pay her $75,000. Reynolds had alleged that co-worker Jeffrey Scott Salyer had ...
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has vacated a summary judgment order in favor of three prison doctors and a warden who denied a prisoner ACL surgery for over a decade.
Illinois state prisoner Herbert Diggs injured his right knee in 2006. For the next three years he complained to medical staff about pain, swelling and instability – at least 14 times. Dr. Parthasarathi Ghosh, the prison’s medical director, finally ordered an MRI in July 2009. It revealed a complete tear of the ACL, one of the ligaments in the knee.
Wexford Health Sources, Inc., the private contractor that provides medical care in Illinois prisons, approved Diggs for an orthopedic follow-up at the University of Illinois-Chicago Medical Center (UIC). Diggs was seen by UIC orthopedist Dr. Alfonso Mejia in October 2009, who determined that the knee was too stiff for ACL surgery and recommended “extensive aggressive physical therapy” to make Diggs “a better preoperative candidate.” Mejia requested a follow-up appointment in four to six weeks. One month later, Wexford pre-approved the knee surgery.
Despite Dr. Mejia’s recommendation, Diggs received no physical therapy or follow-up. In February 2010, he again complained to Dr. Ghosh about continuing knee pain. Ghosh did ...
by Matt Clarke
On August 14, 2017, a Colorado federal district court vacated its prior order granting a motion to dismiss filed by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), and held that a lawsuit filed by Prison Legal News challenging censorship at the supermax Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) in Florence, Colorado was not mooted by changes in the prison’s policies and practices.
ADX officials had rejected eleven issues of PLN between January 2010 and April 2014, apparently on the sole grounds that at least one article in each issue mentioned the name of an ADX prisoner or BOP employee. After unsuccessfully attempting to resolve the issue informally, PLN filed suit in 2015 alleging the BOP had violated its due process rights by, among other things, failing to provide timely and adequate notice of or specific reasons for each rejection. The BOP moved to dismiss.
The magistrate judge filed a report and recommendation (R&R), recommending that the motion be denied. The BOP filed objections. Before PLN could respond to the objections, however, the district court overruled the R&R and dismissed the case.
PLN filed a motion to vacate the court’s order and judgment, which was granted. In doing so, the district ...
by Matt Clarke
It’s an age-old story. Despite EEOC guidance instructing employers not to have blanket policies against hiring ex-felons – and efforts to lift restrictions on occupational licenses for former prisoners – those released from prison soon become familiar with every variation of the word “no” when seeking jobs. One solution is to start their own business, and some non-profits and government agencies have lined up to support ex-prisoner entrepreneurs both before and after release.
The federal Small Business Administration (SBA) launched its $2.1 million Aspire Entrepreneurship Initiative on August 22, 2016. The program trains former prisoners on how to run their own their businesses, and provides them with starter microloans. The initiative is a collaboration between the SBA, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and microlender Justine PETERSEN.
The SBA is overseeing strategic planning and matching funds from Kellogg for pilot programs in Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis and Louisville, Kentucky, while PETERSEN delivers intensive, cohort-based entrepreneurial education. Kellogg also supplies evaluation support. The program has signed on other nonprofits, such as Safer Foundation, to provide training.
“More than 75% of all the new jobs created are not from big corporations, they’re from small businesses,” said Victor Dickson ...
A Pennsylvania federal district court issued a temporary restraining order on July 7, 2017 that required the Lackawanna County Prison (LCP) to provide hormone drugs to treat a transgender prisoner diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
Steven Fritz, who identifies as Sparkle Wilson, “has lived and presented herself as a woman since 2005, at which point she started procuring and taking hormones on the street.” While at State Correctional Institution-Houtzdale in 2015, Wilson was formally diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The American Psychiatric Association defines gender dysphoria as a conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he or she identifies, and its symptoms can include anxiety, depression, suicidal ideations and self-mutilation if left untreated.
Wilson, 44, was paroled from SCI-Houtzdale in 2016 and continued to receive two forms of hormones, Estrace and Premarin. In January 2017, she was jailed on a parole violation for using a stolen credit card. Upon arrival at LCP, Wilson advised guards of her gender dysphoria condition and the need for hormones to treat it. For the first three days, hormones were not provided. They were then administered for three days before being cut off without notice.
In an attempt to receive ...
On March 14, 2017, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a criminal defense lawyer’s 18 convictions for scamming defendants into paying large sums of money in a fake scheme to bribe federal officials to dismiss their cases.
Abraham Moses Fisch, aka Anthony Fisch, was a Texas defense attorney who conspired with former FBI informant Lloyd Glen Williams to scam criminal defendants into paying large amounts that would supposedly be used to bribe high-ranking federal officials to dismiss their cases or provide other favorable relief. Fisch and Williams did not actually have any government contacts who could be paid off to influence pending prosecutions.
Elida Sanchez testified that the pair told her if she paid $1.1 million, her husband, Edilberto Portillo, would be released “very soon” through “friends that work in the CIA.” Based on those misrepresentations, Portillo rejected a plea offer of no more than 80 months in prison; he also did not prepare for trial because he believed it would never occur.
Fisch also “guaranteed” that charges against Princewill Njoku would be dismissed if he and his co-defendant, Clifford Ubani, paid him $150,000. Ubani’s wife urged her husband to reject the government’s plea offer because ...
by David M. Reutter
As its lethal injection drug supply neared expiration last year, Arkansas embarked upon the most ambitious death penalty plan since capital punishment was revived by the Supreme Court in 1976: The state scheduled eight executions over an 11-day period in April 2017. Protests and court challenges ensued, and in the end Arkansas executed four prisoners before its supply of midazolam, one of the drugs used in lethal injections, expired.
As PLN has reported previously, in recent years the state’s machinery of death has experienced resistance and difficulty in finding the drugs necessary to carry out executions. Many states use a three-drug lethal injection “cocktail” that has become increasingly hard to obtain as pharmaceutical manufacturers object to the use of their products in executions. [See: PLN, June 2017, p.14; July 2016, p.58; March 2014, p.46].
That became evident after Arkansas announced its plan to execute Bruce Ward, Don Davis, Ledell Lee, Stacy Johnson, Jack Harold Jones, Jr., Marcel Wayne Williams, Kenneth Williams and Jason McGehee between April 17 and April 27, 2017. On April 15, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order that prohibited the state from using its supply ...
by Lonnie Burton
On April 7, 2017, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a district court’s denial of a motion to dismiss filed by county defendants who asserted that a former prisoner’s 42 U.S.C. § 1983 lawsuit was time-barred. The appellate court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that a state tort claims statute gave him an extra 60days to file his federal complaint.
Although the Ninth Circuit’s decision did not go into detail regarding the nature of the suit, court records show that Eric Boston was housed in the Kitsap County, Washington jail for six weeks between January and February 2011. Boston’s complaint concerned “injuries he sustained” during that time period, and named Conmed, Inc., a private company contracted to provide medical care to Kitsap County prisoners, as a defendant along with the county.
The issue in the case was whether Boston filed his suit within the three-year statute of limitations. Boston filed a tort claim under RCW 4.96.020 on January 3, 2014, exactly three years after the start of his jail stay. He did not bring suit in federal court until March 10, 2014, more than three years after he was released from ...
by Matt Clarke
Five women who served time at Wisconsin’s Milwaukee County jail have filed lawsuits against the county and former Sheriff David Clarke, Jr., alleging mistreatment while they were pregnant – including shackling, the death of one child and the stillbirth of another.
Shadé Swayzer was eight months pregnant when she was booked into the Milwaukee County Justice Facility in 2016, after she refused to leave a motel room. The severely mentally ill woman was placed in a cell in the jail’s maximum-security section; eight days later, she went into labor at around midnight. When she informed a guard that her water had broken and she was in labor, the guard laughed and left her locked alone in a “cold, dark, unsanitary maximum security cell,” her suit claims. About four hours after that she gave birth to a baby girl, Laliah, who “cried profusely.”
Two hours later a guard discovered Laliah in apparent medical distress. The guard waited nine minutes to report a medical emergency, then another nine minutes passed before Milwaukee Fire Department Emergency Medical Technicians arrived.
Though a hospital with a neonatal care unit was just one-third of a mile away from the facility, EMTs ...
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an Indiana federal district court’s denial of class-action status for a subclass in a civil rights action alleging that the policies and practices of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office caused pretrial detainees at the county jail awaiting release to be held for an unreasonably long period of time.
The district court denied class status to prisoners who, from December 19, 2012 to present, were held by the sheriff after legal authority for their detentions ended, due to: 1) the sheriff’s practice of allowing up to 72 hours to release prisoners who were ordered released, and 2) the sheriff’s practice of employing a computer system that was inadequate with respect to the timely release of prisoners.
To certify a class, “a district court must find that each requirement of Rule 23(a) (numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation) is satisfied as well as one subsection of Rule 23(b).”
The court denied the 72-hour subclass because it believed the 48-hour presumptive detention period at issue in County of Riverside v. McLaughlin, 500 U.S. 44 (1991) was critical in defining the period of reasonable detention. On appeal, however, the Seventh Circuit said ...
"Deschutes County has paid what appears to be the largest settlement or verdict against a governmental entity for jail abuse, neglect or death ever in Oregon,” said attorney Jennifer Coughlin, referring to the $1,025,000 settlement she accepted in January 2017 on behalf of the family of a ...
by Matt Clarke
On June 22, 2017, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a jury award of more than $1.25 million in a lawsuit over a Missouri prisoner’s death.
Danial Letterman was held at the Western Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in a secured, padded room under suicide ...
by David M. Reutter
Increases in use-of-force incidents, violence and disturbances in Florida prisons have been blamed on understaffing, a problem ticking like a time bomb in the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC).
Guards employed by the FDOC, which is the third-largest prison system in the U.S., are among the lowest-paid in the nation. Poor wages result in increased staff turnover and difficulty recruiting more employees. Florida’s legislature sanctioned a study that found the FDOC was in need of 734 more guards to adequately staff state prisons; rather than fully address the issue, though, lawmakers funded only 215 of the vacancies.
“I have inexperienced officers supervising inexperienced officers – plus a 41 percent increase in the gang population,” said FDOC Secretary Julie Jones, who noted the average guard had less than two years’ experience.
Maria Kazouris, a labor attorney representing Florida prison guards, reported that understaffing at some facilities meant her clients work 48-hour weeks and are refused time off for vacation or illness.
“In the case of one officer, she has to spend the day in the hospital while her husband, who has cancer, gets chemo, so she is up 24 hours, between work and taking care ...
by Derek Gilna
The Institute of Criminal Policy Research (ICPR), part of the Birkbeck University of London, has collected statistics that indicate approximately three million people were held in pre-trial/remand detention worldwide as of the end of November 2016. According to the ICPR, its data “shows the number of people held in pre-trial detention and other forms of remand imprisonment in 216 prison systems in independent countries and dependent territories.”
Roy Walmsley, director of the ICPR’s World Prison Brief, said, “Prisoners in pre-trial detention or remand are those who, in connection with an alleged offence or offences, are deprived of liberty following a judicial or other legal process but have not been definitively sentenced.”
As part of its research, the ICPR determined that more than 467,000 people in the United States, 282,000 in India, 212,000 in Brazil, 108,000 in Russia, 92,000 in Mexico, 76,000 in the Philippines, 63,000 in Indonesia and 61,000 in Thailand were in pre-trial detention. China was estimated to have 200,000 pre-trial detainees.
Since a similar study was published in 2000 the totals in Africa and Europe have dropped over 20%, but they increased in ...
by David M. Reutter
In May 2017, the sheriff’s office in Henrico County, Virginia entered into a $12,000 settlement to resolve a lawsuit alleging an undocumented immigrant was held in jail beyond his scheduled release date.
Following his arrest for drunk driving, James S. Alfaro-Garcia, an undocumented immigrant from ...
A New York federal jury awarded $7.9 million to the estate of Bartholomew Ryan, 32, who committed suicide at the Nassau County Jail. The jury found the county and its medical contractor, Armor Correctional Health Services, were negligent and had violated Ryan’s constitutional rights.
Ryan was a Marine Corps ...
A lawsuit alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act led the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PDOC) to pay $20,000 and agree to provide “reasonable therapy or reasonable accommodation” to prisoner Donald Scott.
Scott suffered a severe stroke in February 2010, which resulted in brain ...
by Christopher Zoukis
More than four decades have passed since Estelle v. Gamble, the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court ruling which held prisoners cannot be denied necessary medical care under the Eighth Amendment. But when cash-strapped state Departments of Corrections charge co-pays for health care provided to sick prisoners – who earn meager wages and are the least able to afford such fees – the effect can often be the same.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 38 states charge prisoners a co-pay for medical services. Another four allow such fees to be charged by local jails. The co-pays range from $2.00 per nurse or doctor visit to a one-time $100 annual charge. Federal prisoners are also subject to fees for medical care, and charging co-pays has been a longstanding practice in prison systems. [See: PLN, Jan. 1996, p.8].
Officially, the fees are meant to reimburse corrections agencies for the cost of providing medical services. In fact, however, they don’t come close to doing so. The Pew Charitable Trusts reported that Pennsylvania, which charges prisoners a $5.00 co-pay, collected just $373,000 of the $248 million spent on prison health care in 2014 – ...
An April 2017, an Illinois federal district court certified a civil rights class-action consisting of “all prisoners in the custody of Illinois Department of Corrections [IDOC] with serious medical or dental needs.” The suit seeks injunctive relief from future harm due to the IDOC’s “flawed healthcare systems.”
State prison officials contested the class certification on several grounds. The district court rejected arguments that the class was not ascertainable, as the record included exhibits that served as “objective, administratively feasible way[s] to determine which inmates have serious medical or dental needs.” Further, with about 47,000 prisoners in the IDOC, the numerosity requirement was met. The court also found the prisoners’ claims presented “questions of law or fact common to the class.”
Nine policies and practices were alleged to exhibit a flawed healthcare system: chronic failure to fill medical leadership and other medical staff vacancies; routinely allowing under-qualified medical professionals to treat prisoners; failure to timely identify medical problems at reception or intrasystem transfers; failure to manage chronic diseases; failure to promulgate appropriate infirmary policies; delay and denial of specialty care; poor recordkeeping, resulting in inadequate or incomplete files; failure of the IDOC to implement or ...
The en banc Missouri Supreme Court held that a trial court may order restitution only for “losses ‘due to’ the offense for which the defendant has been found (or pleaded) guilty.”
Under Mo. Rev. Stat. 559.105.1, “any person who has been found guilty of or has pled guilty to an offense may be ordered ... to make restitution to the victim for the victim’s losses due to such offense.”
In 2014, numerous items of personal property were stolen from the apartment of a woman identified as “CM” Police were notified that fellow tenant Anthony Bowman possessed some of the stolen property.
A search of Bowman’s apartment revealed several items belonging to CM, which were returned to her undamaged. There was no other evidence that Bowman was guilty of the theft from CM’s apartment or that he had any other items of her property.
Bowman was charged with one felony count of receiving stolen property. The only items identified in the charge were those discovered in his apartment and returned to CM. Ultimately, Bowman pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of receiving stolen property and the court suspended imposition of the sentence pending two years of probation.
On July 14, 2017, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals remanded a civil rights action for a new trial after it found the exclusion of a video left it with “no assurance that [the plaintiff’s] claim was fairly tried.”
The case stemmed from the December 19, 2007 attempted suicide of pretrial detainee Reginald Pittman at the Madison County jail in Illinois. The suit alleged that guards at the facility were deliberately indifferent to the risk that Pittman would try to kill himself.
The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants in 2011. On appeal, the Seventh Circuit remanded as to jailers Randy Eaton and Matt Werner, and the case then proceeded to a jury trial.
The evidence showed that Pittman, who was left in a vegetative state after hanging himself with a blanket, left a suicide note that said he was killing himself because the guards were “fucking” with him by not letting him see members of the crisis intervention team. The key witness at trial was Bradley Banovz, who had occupied a cell adjacent to Pittman’s.
Some three hours after the suicide attempt, a county detective obtained a videotaped 25-minute interview with Banovz concerning Pittman’s ...
by David M. Reutter
A federal class-action suit filed in June 2017 paints the U.S. Penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania essentially as a solitary confinement warehouse filled with prisoners who suffer from serious mental illness. The suit alleges that prisoners are given crossword and Sudoku puzzles in place of counseling or treatment.
In 2009, USP Lewisburg was converted to a Special Management Unit (SMU) where prisoners spend 23 hours per day in their cells. According to the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the “SMU is a multi-level program whose mission is to teach self-discipline, pro-social values, and the ability to co-exist with members of other cultural, geographical, and religious backgrounds.” Any prisoner whom the BOP determines is in need of “greater management” and meets other specific criteria can be sent to the SMU, which is supposed to be non-punitive.
The SMU has three levels with a one-year completion period. Level 1 takes 6-8 months and requires compliance with behavioral expectations. Level 2 lasts 2-3 months and requires demonstration of potential for positive “community” integration, and Level 3 requires 1-2 months and demonstration of positive “community” interaction skills.
“Individuals suffering from serious mental illness who are not properly treated find ...
by David M. Reutter
Some people arrested on felony charges in Mississippi face months, a year or even longer in jail before they are indicted. Some are never indicted before their release. All have one thing in common: they are too poor to afford an attorney or post bond.
According to a 2015 study funded by the Mississippi legislature, 55 percent of felony cases in Hinds County are resolved without an indictment, which rarely takes less than 90 days. A review of the Hinds County jail roster by the Clarion-Ledger on August 18, 2016 found that 18 percent, or 139 detainees, were not indicted within three months of being jailed. In October of that year, 60 of those detainees still had not been indicted.
The Clarion-Ledger found that most of the 139 detainees were “young and black.” Because they were poor, they were assigned overburdened public defenders who have 300 to 400 cases each. Of those detainees, the 79 who were eventually indicted waited more than five months; some waited a year or more.
The delays can cause tensions to boil over. As reported in PLN, a 2014 riot at the Hinds County jail left one prisoner dead and ...
by Christopher Zoukis
The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) overpaid food service giant Aramark $57,193 for food provided to nonexistent prisoners, investigators found.
The overpayment was uncovered by the state Office of the Inspector General (OIG). According to a June 15, 2017 report, the OIG began investigating Aramark after learning of a dispute between the company and the Michigan Department of Corrections over billing discrepancies in excess of $3 million. [See: PLN, Jan. 2018, p.46].
Aramark has held the contract to provide meals to Ohio state prisoners for over four years. The state pays the company around $60 million annually to feed more than 50,000 prisoners in 31 ODRC facilities. Meals provided by Aramark cost the state around $1.31 each.
In January 2017, the union representing ODRC employees submitted its third bid to take over prison food services upon completion of Aramark’s contract the following June. The price per meal quoted by the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA) was $1.226 – low enough to save the state $4.4 million per year.
After rejecting OCSEA’s initial bid in 2013, state prison officials fined Aramark $235,000 for several contract violations – including ...
by Matt Clarke
On February 3, 2017, a jury in Madison, Wisconsin awarded two women $11.5 million in the first two of five federal lawsuits brought by former Polk County jail prisoners who were sexually abused by former guard Darryl Christensen. The awards came a year after Christensen, then-49 ...
On April 27, 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a district court’s dismissal of a prisoner’s federal civil rights lawsuit alleging excessive use of force by a guard. The case had been dismissed for non-exhaustion of administrative remedies, but the appellate court held the failure of prison officials to process and respond to the plaintiff’s grievance rendered the process “unavailable” under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), excusing him from the exhaustion requirement.
Kevin Lamarr Andres, a California state prisoner, filed a grievance alleging a Donovan Correctional Facility (DCF) guard had used excessive force against him in January 2013. Over two months later, with the grievance still unanswered, Andres filed a state habeas petition complaining about DCF’s failure to process his grievance or a subsequently-filed appeal. After waiting another two months, he filed a pro se federal civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging excessive use of force and arguing that DCF’s failure to answer his grievance and appeal rendered that process unavailable to him.
Shortly thereafter, the state habeas court held an evidentiary hearing and granted the petition on October 10, 2014, finding that Andres ...
On December 8, 2016, Elderick Brass, a former Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) lieutenant, was indicted for misuse of official information for leaking a video that showed tear gas being deployed against prisoners at the Pam Lynchner State Jail in May 2015.
The TDCJ admitted that the video showed Lt. Cody Waller improperly firing a tear gas round inside the jail dormitory that was designed for outside use. Sparks flew as the round, which is a little larger than a stick of butter, hit a prisoner in the chest – a target it should never have been aimed at. According to the TDCJ, an indoor round should have been fired at the floor or a wall and not aimed directly at a prisoner from a few feet away. The prisoner hit by the tear gas round was hospitalized.
Brass, who was not on duty when the incident occurred, had previously spoken out against deployment of a tear gas gun in nonviolent situations. The video showed two groups of prisoners, one black and one Hispanic. The Hispanic prisoners refused to report to their bunks so the lights could be turned out, apparently because they were afraid that the blacks, some ...
by Derek Gilna
After extensive research, Families Against Mandatory Minimum (FAMM), which advocates for sentencing reform, published a report in May 2017 that highlighted numerous suggestions for reducing recidivism rates for federal prisoners.
According to FAMM, “almost one-half (49.3%) of the offenders released in 2005 were rearrested for a new crime or rearrested for a violation of supervision conditions within eight years of their release.” FAMM surveyed almost 2,000 federal prisoners prior to publishing its report.
FAMM argued that any plan to reduce the number of federal prisoners must take into account the fact that half of those released are rearrested. Emphasis must be placed, the report said, on increasing meaningful programming for the approximately 183,000 offenders held in Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities to better prepare them for release.
The report suggested five areas in which the BOP could improve, including job training, educational opportunities, substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment and/or cognitive behavioral therapy, and placements in community-based facilities – including halfway houses – to ease the transition of ex-offenders into society.
FAMM advocated for the BOP to use improved risk-assessment tools, “to categorize (and periodically reassess and recategorize) prisoners as being at ...
by Matt Clarke
A rash of suicides at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary (OSP) in McAlester gave it the highest suicide rate among Oklahoma prisons – six times that of the second-highest.
According to a February 20, 2017 article by Oklahoma Watch, between 2012 and 2015, nine OSP prisoners committed suicide – all by hanging themselves – representing one-third of the 25 suicides in the state prison system during that four-year period. The next-highest numbers of suicides occurred at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center and privately-operated Lawton Correctional Facility, which each reported three.
OSP is the only maximum-security facility the state operates, and houses just 3 percent of the state’s prison population. It is also the only facility for males which places prisoners in long-term administrative segregation – a penalty resulting when offenders “in the general population pose a threat to life, property, staff, self, other offenders or to the security or orderly operation of the correctional facility,” according to Department of Corrections (DOC) policy.
“We have monitoring that goes on, treatment that goes on, to try and prevent [prisoner suicides] from happening,” said DOC spokeswoman Terri Watkins. “It’s our ultimate goal for that never to happen. Sadly ...
by David M. Reutter
Less than two years after opening the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center (TTCC) in January 2016, the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) imposed a $43,750 fine against the prison’s private operator, Nashville-based CoreCivic.
Formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, and the nation’s largest for-profit prison company, CoreCivic had already swapped Warden Todd Thomas at Trousdale for Blair Leibach from the company’s Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility. The TDOC levied the fine for not properly conducting prisoner counts – one of the four most serious of 66 non-compliance issues cited in a March 2017 annual audit, along with the improper use of solitary confinement, inadequate staffing and allegations of excessive force.
“Count is one of the most important functions that prison officials perform – it verifies the number of inmates and detects escapes,” said PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann, who served time in a CCA-operated prison in the 1990s. “The failure to adequately perform one of the most basic security functions of a correctional facility speaks volumes about [CoreCivic’s] ability to operate TTCC.”
“We’ve got work to do; clearly, we’ve got work to do,” CoreCivic CEO Damon Hininger admitted.
In November 2017, a performance ...
The New York Supreme Court’s Appellate Division has held that a prison disciplinary hearing officer improperly denied a prisoner’s request to call witnesses. As such, the court remanded the case for a new disciplinary hearing.
Based upon confidential information, New York state prisoner Christopher Ellison was issued a misconduct report charging him with assaulting a fellow prisoner and possessing a weapon. He was found guilty of both charges following a tier III disciplinary hearing, but the decision was reversed on administrative appeal and a rehearing ordered. Ellison was again found guilty after the rehearing and his administrative appeal was denied.
Ellison filed a CPLR article 78 judicial review proceeding and a declaratory judgment action in state court. He sought to vacate the disciplinary conviction.
The Appellate Division held that the misconduct report, hearing testimony and confidential evidence constituted substantial evidence of guilt. The Court also rejected Ellison’s argument that the hearing officer’s “interview with the author of the misbehavior report and review of the information from the confidential source” was insufficient “to allow the Hearing Officer to independently assess the credibility and reliability of the confidential information.”
Prison officials conceded, however, that the hearing officer had improperly denied Ellison’s ...
by David M. Reutter
A federal investigation into an assault on a prisoner by guards at Mississippi’s State Penitentiary at Parchman included a claim that then-Superintendent Earnest Lee impeded the prison’s own review of the incident.
As previously reported in PLN, another FBI investigation resulted in federal charges against four guards involved in the attempted cover-up of a March 9, 2014 assault at Parchman. That incident left an unnamed prisoner temporarily blinded; he also suffered severe blood loss, a broken orbital bone and permanent partial vision loss. [See: PLN, July 2017, p.63; Nov. 2016, p.63].
Guard Lawardrick Marsher, 29, admitted he had repeatedly punched and kicked the prisoner. Lt. Robert Sturdivant, 47, then spearheaded the cover-up. The guards wrote false reports and lied to federal investigators; the Department of Justice found they “falsely minimized and falsely justified the force used by officers.”
The four guards pleaded guilty to the federal charges and were sentenced in June 2017. Marsher and Sturdivant each received 50 weekends in jail, five years’ probation and 150 hours of community service. Guard Deonte Pate, 24, was sentenced to 12 weekends in jail and probation for his role in concealing the incident, while guard ...
by Daniel Horowitz
For many people it will come as no surprise that Louisiana has an extensive prison system. Considered the world’s prison capital, the state imprisons more adults per capita than any other state in the U.S. With 132 detention facilities and more than 30,000 prisoners throughout the state, calls for prison reform have been rampant.
While the prison-industrial complex in Louisiana presents many concerns, one that is particularly important – and often overlooked – is the environmental impact that these facilities have. If opponents of the current prison system in Louisiana and the U.S. want to achieve holistic prison reform, the environmental degradation caused by these facilities must be considered.
Prison facilities can have major, direct impacts on their surrounding ecosystems. Factors serving as environmental hazards to areas surrounding prisons include improper wastewater treatment, poor asbestos management and negligent hazardous waste and trash disposal. These same hazards, along with other contributing issues, can also cause internal problems that can harm the health of prisoners and prison employees.
The level of accountability for the management of these facilities is low, and this perpetuates the environmental degradation and public health risks posed by prisons.
The U.S ...
by Christopher Zoukis
The Canadian government has agreed to pay $10.5 million to Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as an enemy combatant for over a decade. Canadian officials also agreed to apologize to Khadr for his ...
by David M. Reutter
A record number of prisoners – 356 – died while in the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) in 2016. Even more died during 2017.
Topping the chart in 2016 was Dade Correctional Institution (DCI) with 13 deaths – twice the number of any ...
by Matt Clarke
California billionaire Dr. Henry T. Nicholas and his mother entered a grocery store in 1983, a few days after his sister, Marsalee, was murdered. There they ran into her boyfriend, who had been arrested for the crime. They were surprised, shocked. Just coming from a visit to “Marsy’s” grave, they didn’t know he had been granted bail and released.
Nicholas, who founded Broadcom, which manufactures semiconductors for the communications industry, spent the next 25 years – and $4.9 million of his own money – to get California voters to pass Proposition 9, a victims’ bill of rights known as Marsy’s Law that was approved in 2008. The law enshrines a number of victims’ rights in the state constitution, including:
• A right to be notified of court proceedings and to be heard at them
• A right to be notified if the accused is released or escapes
• A right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the safety, dignity and privacy of the victim
• A right to reasonable protection from the accused or any person acting on the accused’s behalf
• A right to know the status of the investigation or case ...
by Matt Clarke
On April 11, 2017, two North Carolina brothers who had been wrongfully convicted and spent 31 years in prison before being exonerated of a rape-murder by DNA evidence moved to dismiss their lawsuit against the government agencies and law enforcement officers complicit in their wrongful convictions, following ...
by Derek Gilna
The non-profit, Massachusetts-based Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) published a report on May 31, 2017 that argued local jails, which hold “one of every three people behind bars” in the United States, have for too long been ignored by state policymakers. “Jails may be locally controlled, but jail practices reflect state priorities and change state-wide outcomes,” the report said.
The number of individuals held in local jails is staggering: In addition to the 1.6 million people incarcerated in federal and state prisons, 646,000 are locked up in more than 3,100 jails throughout the U.S.
Adding to the human tragedy of this excessive confinement, over two out of three jail prisoners are pretrial detainees who have not been convicted of a crime and are thus presumed innocent. Unfortunately, the use of money bail in our criminal justice system inflates jail populations unnecessarily, as indigent defendants are unable to post bonds to secure their release. It comes as no surprise that local jails are filled with people who are mostly poor.
As noted in the PPI report, “65% of the jail population meets medical standards for having a diagnosable substance abuse disorder; 15.3% of ...
by Monte McCoin
According to an October 2017 news report, an investigation by the Medical Board of California found that Dr. Michelle A. Thomas was negligent in the care of five prisoners at the Fresno County Jail in 2014 and 2015. Thomas could face a reprimand, probation or revocation of her medical license if the accusations are upheld.
The doctor was found to have removed prisoner Daniel Trebas’ wheelchair without determining whether he could use a walker or other mobility aid. The wheelchair was returned after video surveillance showed he could not walk. Court records indicate that Trebas has filed a lawsuit for damages and injuries caused by the removal of his wheelchair.
In another case, Dr. Thomas allegedly provided negligent care to a prisoner identified as K.C., whose gastric feeding tube split and spilled his stomach contents. Thomas told a nurse that the tube should be taped shut, but the prisoner was later sent to a hospital by an on-call physician. The Medical Board said Thomas’ order was an “extreme departure from the standard of care.”
Dr. Thomas was also accused of negligence in the treatment of three pregnant prisoners at the jail. All of the women ...
On March 9, 2017, Ochiltree County, Texas settled a lawsuit brought by the family of a woman who committed suicide at the local jail, agreeing to pay $637,500. The county also paid guardian ad litem fees of $10,100 and agreed to change policies at the facility to help ...
According to a report by the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI) released in January 2017, U.S. taxpayers “spend approximately $38 million per day to jail people who are awaiting trial (63% of the total jail population, or more than 450,000 individuals on any given day).” The report noted that this amounts to around $14 billion annually – which would cover the cost of 300,000 firefighters or 250,000 elementary school teachers, or provide free or low-cost lunches for 31 million children.
Researchers recognized that the actual cost could be considerably higher, given that they used a conservative estimate for incarceration expenses of $85 per day – which includes food, medical care and security costs. “It is 60%-100% more expensive to jail people who have health, mental health, or substance abuse disorders,” they wrote. “It is estimated that two-thirds of people in jail suffer from these problems.”
Jail expenses also vary widely across the nation. On the high end, it costs an estimated $460 per day to house a single person at Rikers Island in New York City. That is “more than $167,000 per year – nearly equal to four years’ tuition at Princeton ...
by Monte McCoin
In a bold move designed to reduce cell phone trafficking and improve rehabilitative efforts, on January 2, 2018, French officials opened the bidding process for a telecom provider to install landline telephones in each of 50,000 cells in 178 prisons. The justice ministry said the program was being launched after “successful tests of this experiment” at a facility in Montmedy in northeast France.
Authorities noted a 31% drop in contraband cell phone seizures since installing phones in cells at Montmedy in July 2016, compared with the same period a year earlier.
“The phones have eased tensions inside the prison,” the ministry said. “It helps with civil reintegration, by maintaining family ties,” it added, saying the main goal was to “cut cell phone trafficking.”
The International Prison Observatory, a French advocacy group, welcomed the move but criticized the high cost of making calls. “A phone in each cell allows a degree of intimacy when speaking with family members,” noted François Bes, a member of the organization. “More important, the fact that you can call when you want can let them speak with children after school,” she said. The new freedom that allows ...
On June 5, 2017, an Oregon federal district court refused to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a state prisoner who alleged he was denied access to a law library and legal assistance while confined in a juvenile facility.
Hector Fernando Canales-Robles and Saamir Lopez-Cervantes were both 17 years old when they committed their offenses. Although they were tried as adults and sentenced to the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC), state law required that they be confined in the physical custody of the Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) until they turned 25. At that time they would be transferred to the adult prison system to serve out the remainder of their sentences. Prisoners who present management problems, however, may be transferred to adult prison before age 25.
Had they been sent to the ODOC, Canales-Robles and Lopez-Cervantes would have had access to law libraries and legal assistance. However, the OYA had a longstanding policy and practice of refusing to provide legal resources to juvenile offenders.
OYA prisoners who tried to appeal their convictions and sentences were not allowed to advance through the prison’s “tag” system levels. That deprived them of privileges afforded to more “accountable” prisoners who did not file appeals.
by Derek Gilna
In August 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the deportation of Audemio Orozco-Ramirez, an undocumented Mexican immigrant who was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2013, confined at the Jefferson County jail in Montana and held pending a civil removal order. While incarcerated ...
by Derek Gilna
In July 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a report highly critical of the Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) policy of confining mentally ill prisoners in Restrictive Housing Units (RHUs). The report detailed not only the failure of the BOP to properly treat prisoners with mental health conditions, but also its apparent inability to even determine which offenders are mentally ill.
According to the Marshall Project, an independent criminal justice news agency, “Even at a most basic level, the [BOP] does not seem to know how much of its population is in need of mental treatment.... The bureau has released various estimates that can be contradicted just months later by its own staff.”
As noted by the OIG, “As of June 2016, of the 148,227 sentenced inmates in the BOP’s 122 institutions, 9,749 inmates (7 percent) were housed in its three largest forms of RHU: Special Housing Units (SHU) in 111 institutions; 2 Special Management Units (SMU) at the U.S. Penitentiaries (USP) in Lewisburg and Allenwood, Pennsylvania; and the USP Administrative Maximum Security Facility (ADX) in Florence, Colorado.”
Also confounding attempts to analyze the BOP’s ...
by Derek Gilna
U.S. District Court Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, of the Eastern District of Texas, issued a 193-page opinion on April 28, 2017 that effectively gutted what she termed a “discriminatory money bail system” in Harris County, which includes Houston.
PLN has long covered problems with the money bail industry, in which a defendant’s release from jail before trial is conditioned on their financial resources. [See, e.g.: PLN, Nov. 2017, p.38; Aug. 2016, p.36; Nov. 2012, p.1; Sept. 2012, p.36].
On June 6, 2017, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans refused to halt implementation of Judge Rosenthal’s ruling, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas declined to issue a stay the same day.
A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit heard arguments and officially declined to overrule the lower court on October 3, 2017 – leaving Judge Rosenthal’s order intact.
“This case requires the court to decide the constitutionality of a bail system that detains 40 percent of all those arrested only on misdemeanor charges,” Judge Rosenthal’s opinion began, “many of whom are indigent and cannot pay the amount needed for release on secured money bail.”
Alabama: If you’re running a check forgery ring, it’s not a good idea to pass fake checks from the bank account of a law enforcement agency. Several defendants learned that the hard way after they operated a check cashing scheme that targeted the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office. On June 9, 2017, WBRC reported that almost a dozen people had been arrested for forging checks issued by the Sheriff’s Office to prisoners being released from the county jail; they were charged with various offenses, including possession of a forged instrument. Due to the scheme, the jail plans to stop issuing checks and instead use debit release cards.
Arkansas: Steven Dishman, now 60, escaped from prison in May 1985 while serving a seven-year sentence for burglary and theft of property. He was captured more than three decades later, on June 25, 2017, at a home in Springdale. “He served just under six months of his 1984 conviction, so he owes the state the balance of that,” said DOC spokesman Solomon Graves. Dishman reportedly stole property from the Original Muskrat Roadhouse & Saloon in Fayetteville, and had a prior record for stealing a CB radio in 1976.
Australia: In October 2017, New ...