by Candice Bernd, Zoe Loftus-Farren and Maureen Nandini Mitra
Matthew Morgenstern is convinced his Hodgkin’s lymphoma was caused by exposure to toxic coal ash from the massive dump right across the road from SCI Fayette, a maximum-security prison in LaBelle, Pennsylvania, where he is currently serving a 5- to 10-year sentence.
“In 2010 and until I left in 2013, the water always had a brown tint to it. Not to mention the dust clouds that used to come off the dump trucks ... which we all breathed in.... Every single day I would wake up and there would be a layer of dust on everything,” he writes from inside the prison.
When Morgenstern was sent back to SCI Fayette in 2016 after he violated parole, he found that the dust issue had abated a bit – work at the dump has been stalled for a year due to litigation, but the water still runs brownish and sometimes has “a funky smell.” He says he knows that the environment in and around the prison is still “messed up” and he’s concerned that his immune system, already weakened from fighting and overcoming cancer, won’t be able to withstand another onslaught of ...
On August 14, 2017, the Florida Supreme Court approved a new lethal injection drug protocol that includes the hypnotic drug etomidate. The introduction of etomidate into the state’s execution protocol is the latest move to preserve the death penalty despite drug manufacturers’ efforts to prohibit the use of their products in capital punishment.
Following the denial of his third motion for post-conviction relief, death-sentenced prisoner Mark James Asay appealed to the Florida Supreme Court. His motion alleged four claims related to the denial of access to public records, unconstitutionality of a statute concerning the signing of a death warrant, denial of due process in how his execution date was reset and a challenge to the lethal injection drug protocol.
Asay argued the adoption of etomidate as the first drug in the protocol “places him at substantial risk of serious harm in violation of the Eighth Amendment.” A circuit court, after an evidentiary hearing, found Asay had failed to establish a certain or very likely risk of sufficiently imminent danger, or a proposed alternative that was readily available. The state Supreme Court held the evidence supported that finding.
In reaching its conclusion, the Court noted that when intravenously injected, “etomidate ...
by Paul Wright
I would like to thank everyone who donated to HRDC’s annual fundraiser last year. When we started our fundraiser, our goal was to raise enough money to be able to hire a full-time investigative reporter. Within a few weeks, though, we were evicted by the City of Lake Worth from the office we had occupied for over four years, and forced to relocate. The short-notice eviction forced us to have to quickly find new office space and incur additional expenses we had not anticipated. Fortunately, many of our readers and supporters stepped up and made additional donations to help us with those unexpected costs.
The first week of January, we moved into our new office and the move went quickly and uneventfully. We now rent our own office building, which we do not share with other tenants, and it meets our current needs. The downside is that we had a significant increase in rent and expenses from what we were paying at the prior location.
I would like to thank everyone who made a donation to help us with the move. The pictures show our new office as well as all HRDC staff except Deborah Golden, a ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Maury County, Tennessee Sheriff Bucky Rowland was elected to office in 2014 on a platform that promoted prisoner rehabilitation. While it is not unusual for an elected official to give lip service to the concept of rehabilitating criminals, Sheriff Rowland was serious.
A major part of his efforts was the development of the Church Work Release program; the program, which started in December 2016, allowed certain prisoners to leave the jail to attend church services. The prisoners were vetted and assigned a spiritual mentor before participating in the program, wore civilian clothes to the service and were escorted by their mentor, not by jail staff. Participants had to be within 60 days of the end of their sentence with no disciplinary issues.
Sheriff Rowland defended the program from detractors, insisting that the people in his jail were not just prisoners – they are human beings.
“We will invest in them to change that way of thinking,” Rowland told WKRN.com. “Ninety percent of the people in this jail – they are good folks. They have addiction problems, drugs or alcohol. They get clean, and they say they don’t want to be here, I’m not coming back ...
by David M. Reutter
A “dirty staff gang” of corrupt employees in North Carolina’s prison system is circumventing security measures by smuggling contraband that creates dangers not only for prisoners and staff members, but also for people in the community who have been the victims of criminal plots.
North Carolina has about 8,000 prison guards, of whom 1,800 to 2,000 are new hires in any given year. The high turnover rate is driven at least in part by low wages. The national average pay for a guard is $47,000, but thanks to the rural locations of most North Carolina prisons, guards average $32,000 annually at minimum-security facilities and $35,000 at maximum-security facilities.
“These officers are broke,” said Troy Person, who served 20 years on multiple counts of forgery at the Scotland Correctional Institution (SCI). “That’s why there are so many cell phones in prison.”
Person said he paid two guards to smuggle him cell phones, liquor, condoms, pornography and marijuana, all of which he sold to other prisoners.
The contraband trade can be lucrative inside prisons, where a pound of marijuana is worth more than $9,000 and a smartphone can go ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Proposition 66, also known as the Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act, was passed by 51.13% of California voters on November 8, 2016. Prop. 66 was intended to “facilitate the enforcement of judgments and achieve cost savings in capital cases.” In short, it aims to speed up executions in the state.
Immediately after being voted into law, Prop. 66 was challenged on constitutional grounds. [See: PLN, Feb. 2017, p.41]. The California Supreme Court took up the case in order to determine whether the proposition violated the state constitution by 1) embracing more than one subject, 2) interfering with the jurisdiction of California courts to hear original habeas corpus petitions, 3) violating equal protection or 4) violating the separation of powers doctrine.
In a lengthy August 24, 2017 decision, the Supreme Court upheld Prop. 66 in its entirety; however, it did find that the law violated the separation of powers doctrine. In order to avoid striking down the proposition, the Court altered a central part of the law.
The problem was in language that required the resolution of all death penalty appeals and habeas corpus proceedings within five years. As pointed out in a concurring ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Attorney Donald Specter has spent his career working to bring change to the American carceral system. He began as a volunteer at the Prison Law Office – a Berkeley, California-based nonprofit law firm that litigates prison condition cases. The apex of his efforts may have been the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2011 ruling in Brown v. Plata, which required California to reduce its prison population by upwards of 40,000 prisoners. [See: PLN, July 2011, p.1].
But Specter came to realize that as a means of prison reform, litigation can only go so far. Thus, in 2013 he founded the U.S.-European Criminal Justice Innovation Program, a group that sponsors and funds tours of European prisons for U.S. prison officials, judges, legislators and other constituents of the carceral complex. According to the ABA Journal, Specter funds the trips with fees the Prison Law Office has been awarded in prison litigation cases, including his $2.2 million in fees from Brown v. Plata.
So far, groups from Idaho, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon and Alaska have toured prisons in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway. Participants in Specter’s program tend to come away from ...
by Christopher Zoukis
A 36-year-old California prisoner with a documented history of schizophrenia died in a jail cell on January 22, 2017, less than an hour after his release from a restraint chair where he had been held for almost two days.
Andrew Chaylon Holland was the eighth person to die in custody at the San Luis Obispo County jail since 2012 – a mortality rate higher than the national average. Another death followed on April 13, 2017, when Kevin Lee McLaughlin, 60, suffered a fatal heart attack in a jail unit after a nurse dismissed his complaint of pain in his shoulder.
According to media reports and court documents, Holland faced multiple charges – most often for assaulting jail staffers – during the nearly two years that he was shuffled between the jail and the county’s in-patient psychiatric facility. He was found incompetent to stand trial four times, but on each occasion he was transferred to the psychiatric hospital, “restored to competency” and then returned to the county jail.
His mother, Sharon Holland, told the San Luis Obispo Tribune that her son “was kept in isolation a year and a half.”
A court order that Holland be transferred ...
by Monte McCoin
PLN has previously reported on the December 2016 conviction of former Rikers Island jail complex guard Brian Coll, 47, for his role in the 2012 death of detainee Ronald Spear. In 2014, New York City paid $2.75 million to settle the Spear family’s wrongful death suit. [See: PLN, July 2015, p.1; May 2017, p.63].
Newly-released court testimony revealed that Coll kicked Spear in the side of the head several times “like he was kicking a field goal,” then told the wounded, mentally ill man, “This is what you get. Remember I did this.” In court documents, prosecutors revealed disturbing details about the case, including that Coll had bragged that he should get a teardrop tattoo to represent Spear’s murder and had kept a framed newspaper clipping in his bedroom as a trophy of the incident.
Coll’s attorneys had argued for a sentence of between four and six years, and told the federal court that Coll himself did not orchestrate the subsequent cover-up of the attack, calling it “a function of the culture firmly in place at Rikers Island.”
On September 13, 2017, Manhattan U.S. District Court Judge Loretta A. Preska ...
by Heather Ann Thompson
Few Americans fully appreciate just how many of their fellow citizens are ensnared in the criminal justice system.
Some may have heard that there are about 2.3 million people behind bars, but that figure tells only part of the story. Yes, in a stunning array of 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 901 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails and 76 Indian Country jails, as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers and prisons in the U.S. territories, we physically contain more human beings than any other country in the world. In addition to those actually locked up, there are another 840,000 Americans being supervised on parole and an additional 3.7 million people being monitored on probation.
Consider this: The world’s most populous city, Tokyo, and the U.S.’s most populous state, California, have fewer residents combined than the up to 100 million U.S. citizens who now have a criminal record.
As important, these historically unprecedented rates of containment, and the deep stigma of a criminal record, aren’t experienced equally in this country. America’s incarceration crisis is suffered staggeringly and disproportionally by communities of color.
That so many are ...
by Matt Clarke
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s judgment dismissing a lawsuit brought by a prisoner who sought an injunction requiring the Louisiana Department of Corrections (DOC) to allow him to wear dreadlocks. In its decision, the Court declared the DOC’s grooming policy violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), and enjoined the DOC from enforcing it as to the plaintiff.
Christopher Jerome Ware, a Louisiana state prisoner, was incarcerated at the Bossier Parish Medium Security Jail awaiting transfer to the DOC. Ware had been a Rastafarian since 2011 or 2012, and wore dreadlocks – self-described “compacted strands of ‘coarse-feeling, flexible’ hair” that extended to just below his shoulders. His religious beliefs required that he not cut or style his hair; the dreadlocks were not braided and were no more than 1 inch thick.
The Bossier Parish jail permitted dreadlocks, but the DOC’s grooming policy did not.
Anticipating problems upon his transfer to state prison, Ware filed a federal lawsuit alleging the DOC’s grooming policy violated RLUIPA by imposing a substantial burden on his religious beliefs. Following a two-day bench trial during which eight witnesses testified, the district court found “the grooming ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Built just 17 years ago, but on unstable ground, Wyoming’s maximum-security penitentiary in Rawlins suffers from a sinking foundation, cracking walls and ceilings, and flooding from both a failing roof and broken, badly-installed pipes.
In 2011, just 10 years into its planned 50-year lifespan, structural problems were already occurring so regularly at the prison that officials with the Wyoming Department of Corrections set up a program to monitor them. By 2016, the situation had deteriorated to the point that 525 prisoners were restricted to their cells for 42 hours so malfunctioning doors could be fixed.
An October 2017 report in the Casper Star-Tribune listed problems reported by staff at the facility. Cracks cover windows like spider webs. Doors cannot be latched and emergency door alarms fail to sound. Telephone lines get cut or crushed, and water leaks into an electrical room. At least one office is unoccupied due to safety concerns. As employees watched one day, a crack in a wall expanded by more than a foot in less than seven minutes.
But Wyoming needs the prison’s 682 beds, so to keep the facility operating, staff make daily repairs. They shave doors, prop up ceilings with poles ...
by Sybil Drew, Truthout
The mausoleum at the Oak Grove Cemetery in Hillsboro, Illinois holds a secret: Hidden away in the top shelf are more than a dozen containers of unclaimed ashes. They hold the cremains of prisoners who died at the nearby Graham Correctional Center, a medium-security all-male facility that caters to the state’s sick prisoner population, offering substance abuse treatment and a kidney dialysis program. After being in limbo, sitting for several years inside a metal cabinet at the Montgomery County Coroner’s office, the prisoners made their way to this much-deserved peaceful final resting place.
Terry Plummer, owner of the Plummer Funeral Home in Litchfield, Illinois, says each funeral home near Graham Correctional Center takes a turn picking up a prisoner and taking care of their body. “The Illinois Department of Human Services used to have an ‘Indigent Burial Fund’ – it was $1,600 for each person – $1,100 for transport and storage of the body and $500 for burial or cremation. Over the years, Governor Bruce Rauner and [Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives] Mike Madigan cut it out of the budget. Now the Montgomery County Coroner has to find a way to pay ...
by Matt Clarke
The estate of a man who died in a Colorado jail of a treatable foot malady has settled a lawsuit alleging Corrections Corporation of America (now CoreCivic) and other defendants caused his death by denying him medical care and surgery.
When Dennis Choquette was booked into the ...
by Gregory Dober
In 2013, the FDA approved two new life-saving hepatitis C (HCV) drugs known as simeprevir (brand named Olysio) and sofosbuvir (brand named Sovaldi). The drugs, a new class of medication called direct-acting antivirals (DAAs), were proven to be over 90% effective in clinical trials. Additionally, they reduced the course of treatment for hepatitis C from approximately 24-48 weeks to 12 weeks without the harsh side effects of previous medications like interferon. [See: PLN, July 2014, p.20].
Since 2013, eight DAA drugs have been approved and marketed by five different pharmaceutical companies. Despite the creation of more drugs and competition, treatment costs remain high and many state Departments of Corrections have resisted providing DAA treatment to prisoners with HCV.
In February 2018, California prisoners filed a class-action suit in federal district court against the state’s prison healthcare service, corrections officials and several other defendants, alleging violations of the Eighth Amendment and the Americans with Disabilities Act. See: Bayse v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:18-cv-00278-MCE-DB.
The plaintiffs claim that despite the availability of the new drugs and a finding by the Centers for Disease Control that ...
by Matt Clarke
Citing a need to stop the smuggling of drugs and other contraband, some prisons and jails have placed new and stringent restrictions on both prisoner mail and visitation.
Beginning in April 2017, prisoners in the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) must be strip-searched and change into new underwear and a jumpsuit that zips up the back prior to meeting with outside visitors. After the visit, they are again searched then change back into their regular prison clothes. Female prisoners have to wear jumpsuits but are not required to change their underwear. Visitors may no longer make certain vending machine purchases in state prisons, either.
Lisa Kinney, a spokeswoman for the Virginia DOC, explained that the new rules were needed because “visitors pass contraband to offenders at visitation through things like potato chip bags purchased in the vending machines.”
Except for legal and privileged correspondence, Virginia prisoners also no longer receive their actual mail. Instead, each letter – which is restricted to five pages – and its envelope are photocopied, and the copies are given to prisoners. Newspapers and magazines sent from publishers are still delivered without being photocopied. West Virginia has implemented a policy of providing ...
Jail officials “may not turn a blind eye to a deaf ear,” the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit fittingly declared in an August 31, 2017 ruling that reversed a summary judgment order in a lawsuit filed by a deaf former prisoner.
David Updike was born unable to hear and communicates primarily through American Sign Language (ASL). He does not read or speak English well. Having never heard English words, he is not proficient at lip reading because he does not know the shape the lips make to produce certain words. All of Updike’s friends and his ex-wife are also deaf, and he “lives in the deaf world.”
On January 14, 2013, police were called to Updike’s home in Gresham, Oregon for a domestic disturbance. Dispatchers were told the disturbance involved deaf people, but the responding officers did not bring an ASL interpreter with them. Despite claiming that a deaf houseguest had assaulted him after he refused to give the guest money, Updike was arrested and taken to the Multnomah County Detention Center (MCDC) for booking.
MCDC has a telecommunications device (TDD) for deaf prisoners, and the county contracts with a private company to provide ASL interpreters ...
by David M. Reutter
Alleging a “culture of cover-up and excessive force,” the MacArthur Justice Center and the Advocacy Center of Louisiana (ACL) filed a class-action lawsuit in February 2018 against officials at the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (LDPSC) and the David Wade Correctional Center (DWCC).
The suit followed a contentious investigation by ACL, which was itself the subject of litigation that settled in August 2017, after the New Orleans-based non-profit accused DWCC staff of interfering with and impeding its efforts to investigate alleged abuse of disabled prisoners.
ACL is Louisiana’s designated advocacy organization for individuals with disabilities under the federal Protection and Advocacy system.
Prior to filing its initial suit in June 2017, ACL received “alarming reports of serious abuse of people with disabilities incarcerated in the lockdown units” at DWCC. A review of written complaints from prisoners and interviews led the organization to conclude that probable cause existed to investigate DWCC.
ACL then set up an appointment to tour the facility and interview prisoners. But when its investigators arrived at DWCC on June 21, 2017, they were not allowed to enter cells or recreation areas; they also were prohibited from asking staff or prisoners ...
by Matt Clarke
On May 12, 2017, a Colorado federal jury awarded $50,000 to a former jail prisoner who was assaulted by a deputy while speaking with a judge in a Denver courtroom.
According to court documents, Deputy Brad Lovingier restrained Anthony Waller with handcuffs, leg irons and a ...
In June 2017, a New Mexico state court issued a temporary restraining order that required the Department of Corrections (DOC) to allow a prisoner to breastfeed her baby during regular visitation hours, and to pump breast milk so her child could be fed at other times.
Monique Hidalgo, 33, was pregnant when she violated the terms of her parole in a drug case. Hidalgo, who was addicted to opioids, arrived at the Western New Mexico Correctional Facility the following month to begin serving a three-year sentence.
Her daughter, Isabella, was born at the University of New Mexico Hospital on May 22, 2017, suffering from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), a common and treatable condition for newborns exposed to opioids in utero.
“Most of the babies go through the same thing,” said Dr. Lawrence Leeman, who treated both Hidalgo and her daughter. “They are a little shaky, their muscles are tighter, and often they will have trouble feeding.”
Despite requests from the DOC, Dr. Leeman managed to delay discharging Hidalgo for two weeks. During her pregnancy, Hidalgo had obtained permission from the DOC to receive methadone treatment, which stopped when she gave birth. Leeman wanted to provide time for her ...
by Christopher Zoukis
As previously mentioned in PLN, Global Tel*Link Corp. (GTL), the largest provider of prison and jail phone services in the United States, has settled a lawsuit that accused the company of conspiring to bribe corrections officials in Mississippi. [See: PLN, Oct. 2017, p.16; Oct. 2015 ...
A $75,000 settlement was reached in a civil rights action alleging denial of medical care to a pretrial detainee who died from complications related to a peptic ulcer. The death of Robert Breeding, 32, came only five days after he was booked into Missouri’s St. Charles County Department of ...
On August 29, 2017, the Maine Supreme Court affirmed the denial of a motion to dismiss a jeopardy order against the father of Emma B.
Emma was a child living with her mother in Maine, where they moved in 2016. Her father was a prisoner serving a sentence in Massachusetts; he had not lived with Emma and her mother since 2008. On August 5, 2016, an investigation began due to possible child abuse allegations. Emma was removed from the home and protection proceedings began.
Emma’s father filed a motion to dismiss, arguing the court did not have jurisdiction over him. The court held that the emergency and necessary needs of the child-related issue distinguished the proceedings from similar divorce and custody cases. It also held the father’s contacts with the child satisfied the three-part jurisdiction analysis of Maine’s long-arm statute.
Jeopardy orders were placed against the mother and imprisoned father. A reunification plan was proposed for the mother due to her cooperation, but the court found aggravating circumstances of abandonment against the father and issued a cease reunification order. The father appealed.
The Maine Supreme Court held proceedings for a child protection case must be filed in the jurisdiction where ...
by Derek Gilna
In October 2017, a New Castle County, Delaware grand jury indicted 18 prisoners from the maximum-security James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, 16 of whom were charged with the murder of Lt. Steven Floyd, Sr. The guard was the only fatality of a February 2017 riot at the ...
The Oregon Court of Appeals held that a female jail employee who repeatedly let a prisoner out of his cell to have sex with him should have been allowed to present an insanity defense at trial.
As previously reported in PLN, the Washington County Jail in Hillsboro, Oregon was rocked by a sex scandal involving two female jail employees who repeatedly let a sex offender out of his cell to engage in sex. Although the women worked together in the same unit, they had no idea they were both having sex with the same prisoner, according to Washington County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Bob Ray. [See: PLN, Feb. 2017, p.42; July 2016, p.63; May 2015, p.63; April 2015, p.63].
One of those women was civilian services employee Brett Lindsey Robinson, who had worked at the jail for just over a year when she was placed on administrative leave on July 30, 2014.
A grand jury indicted Robinson on six counts of first-degree sexual misconduct and six counts of first-degree official misconduct. She was booked into the jail on August 19, 2014, and pleaded not guilty to the charges at her arraignment 10 days later.
“They didn’t cross ...
The Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) must provide a kosher diet to a Muslim prisoner who said he believes “Islam prohibits rejecting food that Allah has given to humans – including certain types of animal meat.”
Prisoner Roman Lee Jones, who was housed at the Indiana State Prison (ISP), filed a complaint under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc, arguing the IDOC’s refusal to let him receive a halal diet that includes meat imposed a substantial burden on the exercise of his religious faith.
“The Qur’an, the Holy Text of Islam, teaches that certain foods, such as pork and alcohol, are always haram (which means ‘forbidden’) and as such may never be consumed by Muslims,” the district court wrote. “Other foods, such as meat from cows, veal, lamb, sheep, goats, chickens, and ducks, are deemed to be halal if they are slaughtered in the manner prescribed by Islamic law and are not contaminated by food that is haram.”
Following a December 2010 court order, the IDOC began providing prepackaged lunches and dinners that were designated kosher to all prisoners who requested them based on their sincerely held religious ...
On August 25, 2017, the Alabama Supreme Court held the decision in Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012), which prohibits mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders, was “a substantive rule that is retroactive in cases on collateral review.”
That ruling came in a petition filed by prisoner Jimmy Williams, Jr., who was convicted of capital murder committed during a robbery. The crime occurred in 1975 when Williams was 15 years old; he was sentenced to the only possible sentence at the time, life without parole.
After Miller was decided, which held that a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a juvenile defendant violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, Williams sought relief from his sentence. The circuit court, the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court all held that Williams was not entitled to resentencing, as his case was final before Miller was decided.
Williams then sought review in the U.S. Supreme Court. While his petition was pending, the high court held in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016) [PLN, March 2016, p.48] that Miller was entitled to retroactive application. As a result ...
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a summary judgment order in favor of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (LDPSC), holding that strip searches of prisoners for security reasons are not unconstitutional.
Freddie R. Lewis, incarcerated at the Winn Correctional Center (WCC), filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against LDPSC and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA, now known as CoreCivic) for alleged violations of his Fourth Amendment rights. He argued that he was subjected to unreasonable strip searches, that LDPSC failed to monitor CCA, and that both CCA and LDPSC failed to comply with their own rules and regulations. He sought injunctive relief and punitive damages.
Lewis worked in the garment factory at WCC, which subjects prisoners to strip searches twice a day. The garment factory has civilians who make deliveries and interact with the prisoner workers; it also has many tools which can easily be converted into weapons. The strip searches, prison officials said, are intended to control the introduction of contraband or weapons into the facility.
The searches are conducted in a partially-secluded room with windows near the exits at each end of the building. Two guards, Carol Melton and Joshua ...
by David M. Reutter
On September 1, 2017, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals revived civil rights claims brought by four Alabama death row prisoners. Their lawsuits challenged the state’s current three-drug execution protocol, arguing that the use of midazolam as the first drug would subject them to “intolerable pain” when the next two drugs, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride, are injected.
Before the appellate court was a consolidated appeal from the four prisoners, who alleged violations of the Eighth Amendment. Their complaints were drafted by John A. Palombi, Assistant Federal Defender for the Middle District of Alabama. The district court had ruled in favor of the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) and various prison officials, concluding the prisoners had failed to present probative evidence creating “a genuine dispute of material fact as to [the existence of a feasible and implementable] alternative method of execution.”
The Eleventh Circuit disagreed, finding issues of material fact existed. It also found the district court had improperly weighed the creditability of the evidence and testimony.
When Alabama introduced lethal injection as its means of execution, it adopted the three-drug protocol used by “virtually every other state that executes its death row inmates by ...
by Matt Clarke and Ed Lyon
Global Tel*Link (GTL), one of the largest prison and jail phone service providers in the United States, has steadily expanded into other services that target corrections agencies. The telecom firm is now competing with Securus Technologies for a share of a lucrative and unregulated market: Providing tablet computers and e-messaging services to prisoners.
GTL supplies a custom tablet which it offers to prisoners at no cost. The company then recoups its investment and turns a profit by charging user fees for apps and services available through the devices.
Under a recent contract awarded to GTL by the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC), prisoners pay $0.49 for each electronic message. The company also charges a monthly fee to access its streaming music service and video games in tiered subscriptions, priced from $5 to $15 per month.
Offering about 3 million songs, GTL’s music service costs twice as much as Spotify or iTunes for less than one-tenth the number of available songs. And with video games usually available outside prison for no more than $8 each, two months of GTL’s gaming fees could pay for all eight of the most popular games available from ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has long advocated for more higher education programs in New York state prisons. His plans have drawn criticism from conservatives who take issue with the use of public funds to educate convicted criminals. But with the help of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, the governor has put together a plan that will award around $7.3 million to colleges offering classes to state prisoners – without using taxpayer money.
The funding for the program, which the New York Times estimates will create college courses and reentry services for about 2,500 prisoners, will come from settlements reached between large banks and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. The college programs will be taught at 17 prisons throughout the state; seven universities will offer classes and degree programs for incarcerated students.
New York is one of the few states to have partnered with colleges to offer in-prison classes. Bard College’s prison program has been active in the Empire State since 1999, and about 500 prisoners have earned degrees. The new funding is essential to higher education programs, said Bard Prison Initiative founder Max Kenner.
“We’re a little college that operates with no student tuition, no ...
by David M. Reutter
When prisoners tire of the same fare they are given to eat, day after day, they become creative to make it more palatable. A dozen pre-trial detainees at the Walker County Jail (WCJ) in Alabama, for example, found a new way to use peanut butter – they turned it into an escape tool.
The crafty July 30, 2017 escape from WCJ involved prisoners ages 18 to 30; they faced charges ranging from disorderly conduct and domestic violence to drug possession and attempted murder.
A new guard who was overseeing about 140 detainees while working in the control room at WCJ was faulted for making a “human error,” said Sheriff James E. Underwood. “The young man, he was a weak link and they knew it ... that’s it in a nutshell.”
Presumably no pun was intended.
“They changed the number over the [cell] door with peanut butter” to match a door to the outside, the sheriff continued. “[Then] they hollered, ‘Hey, open door’ so-and-so, but [the number] was the outside door. And unknowingly to him, he hit that lock and out the door they went.”
The escape plan included throwing blankets over a 15-foot ...
by Matt Clarke
In April 2017, the estate and heirs of woman who died after she was allegedly denied medical care at the Tom Green County jail in San Angelo, Texas received $250,000 to settle a lawsuit against the county, sheriff, three jailers and two jail nurses.
When Jerry ...
In August 2017, the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC) agreed to provide kosher meals in state prisons to partially settle a lawsuit brought by four Jewish prisoners represented by the ACLU of Idaho.
While the IDOC’s internal “Handbook for Religious Beliefs and Practices” states that prisoners will receive a kosher ...
Three former Florida prison guards, who were members of a Ku Klux Klan chapter, were convicted of conspiring to kill a former prisoner. The plot was reportedly hatched in retaliation for a scuffle that occurred at the Reception and Medical Center (RMC).
In a previous article, PLN covered the arrests of David Elliot Moran, Charles Thomas Newcomb and Thomas Jordan Driver, who were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. [See: PLN Feb. 2016, p.1].
According to prosecutors, Driver was bitten by an unnamed African American prisoner during a fight at RMC, and feared he had been infected with hepatitis or HIV. In late 2014, Newcomb, Moran and Driver met with an FBI informant who had infiltrated a KKK affiliate in Jacksonville called the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Driver told the informant that he had gotten into a “physical altercation” with the prisoner, who had since been released. Driver, Newcomb and Moran told the informant they wanted to see the former prisoner “six feet under.” Their plan was to inject him with insulin to make his death appear accidental.
Newcomb, who identified himself as the “Exalted Cyclops” of the KKK ...
by Monte McCoin
A Maryland prison guard was indicted on 35 charges, including first-degree attempted murder, after a lengthy investigation revealed he was a high-ranking member of the 8-Trey Crips street gang. Antoine Fordham was the initial target of a nearly year-long probe into organized crime in Maryland’s prison system. On November 30, 2017, state officials announced that Fordham was among 26 people who had been indicted the previous month for their roles in widespread gang activity both within and outside Maryland prisons. Guard Phillipe Jordan was indicted for a lesser role.
According to the indictment, Fordham ran a large-scale contraband delivery operation at the Jessup Correctional Institution and Maryland Correctional Institution, as well as in other facilities. He allegedly ordered a near-fatal attack on an incarcerated former Crips member who was stabbed more than 30 times but survived.
“It’s a disgrace that gangs are operating in our prisons. It’s even worse where they’re abetted by folks who have taken an oath to uphold the law,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh. “Gangs are a blight on any community in which they operate,” he added. “As members of the 8-Trey Crips gang, Fordham and Jordan betrayed their ...
by Derek Gilna
Within 30 days after the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act (S.1524) was introduced by U.S. Senator Kamala Harris and three of her colleagues – a bill that seeks to compel the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to provide free feminine hygiene products to female prisoners – the BOP, without fanfare, issued an operations memo in August 2017 that accomplished the same thing.
Previously, under a 1996 BOP policy, “products for female hygiene needs” only had to be made “available.” Female prisoners were required to spend their own funds to obtain tampons, maxi-pads and panty liners, which was difficult for prisoners employed in low-wage jobs and “a humiliating and degrading experience,” according to Brennan Center for Justice vice-president Jennifer Weiss-Wolf. She called it “kind of astonishing” that feminine hygiene products weren’t previously thought of as a necessity.
“It feels like you’re degraded for having a period,” said Holli Coulman, who was released from a BOP facility in Victorville, California shortly before the policy change.
Even after the change, questions arose about how well it was being implemented. The prison-issued maxi-pads were so thin that many women reported having to wear several at a ...
by David M. Reutter
Todd L. Caveness, 40, had a long history of bipolar disorder, anxiety attacks and paranoia when he was booked into North Carolina’s Wilson County Jail on attempted murder charges in early 2016. When he began to believe his food was poisoned and stopped eating, he lost 30 pounds over three weeks.
Upon his arrival at a hospital on February 3, 2016, he was suffering from malnutrition, dehydration and kidney malfunction. Hospital staff convinced him to start eating again, but a blood clot in his lungs caused his death two days later.
Because Caveness’ death did not occur at the jail, though, it was not reported to North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). When any of the state’s 24,000 prisoners held in its 113 jails dies, DHHS regulations require the death to be reported – but only if it occurred while in custody. Chris Wood, a DHHS investigator inquiring about Caveness’ death, was told a report was not made because he “was alive when he left the [jail] and the death was not related to a suicide.” Wood requested a full report anyway, stating it could note that Caveness did not die ...
by Derek Gilna
In August 2017, prisoners at the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison in Kenya, along with other prisoners in the African nation, were allowed to vote in presidential elections for the first time. Offenders at the Kamiti facility patiently waited their turn to vote via a biometric system that scanned their hands before they could cast ballots.
Kenya adopted a new constitution in 2010, and civil rights advocates noted that prisoners were not barred from voting. Kituo Cha Sheria, a legal aid foundation, filed a petition to authorize voting within prisons; the petition was granted in 2013, but too late for prisoners to vote in that year’s election. So far, the franchise right is limited to presidential elections.
According to John Mwariri, a legal officer at Kituo Cha Sheria, “If you look at the law, it is very clear that every [Kenyan] citizen has the right to vote.” In contrast, virtually every person held in a state or federal prison in the U.S. is barred from voting while incarcerated, and many are disenfranchised even after their release. Only Maine and Vermont allow state prisoners to vote.
The head of the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, Henry Kising’u, stated ...
by Christopher Zoukis
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) slapped Securus Technologies with a $1.7 million fine for providing misleading and inaccurate information as part of its application to transfer control to another company, but still approved the transfer on October 30, 2017.
Securus, one of the nation’s largest providers of prison and jail phone services, applied to the FCC for permission to transfer control of the company to Platinum Equity, LLC in May 2017. The transfer would facilitate the sale of Securus to Platinum Equity, a firm owned by Gores Trust with Tom Gores and Holly Gores as trustees, for $1.6 billion. Tom Gores also owns the Detroit Pistons basketball team. [See: PLN, Oct. 2017, p.48].
During the period allowed for public comment on the transfer, a group of prisoners’ rights advocates, including the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), which publishes Prison Legal News, filed a petition to deny the application. The petitioners argued that Securus had routinely violated FCC rules and otherwise “acted to demonstrate that it lacked the character qualifications to hold Commission authorization.”
In addition to its general unfitness to hold FCC licenses, the petitioners discovered that Securus had submitted a letter to ...
The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center has prevailed in a lawsuit to obtain records related to prisoners held in segregation at Louisiana’s Allen Correctional Center (ACC), run by the GEO Group, a private prison contractor.
A public records request was submitted to ACC on June 19, 2017 and verified as received three days later. No reply was made by July 12, so the MacArthur Justice Center sent a follow-up letter via fax and certified mail seeking the status of its records request. No documents were produced, nor was a response provided by ACC. The Center then filed a public records mandamus petition on August 10, 2017.
“For over nearly two months we have made repeated attempts to obtain the requested documents and the warden simply refuses to provide the information,” said Katie Schwartzmann, co-director of the MacArthur Justice Center’s New Orleans office. “All we want to know is who they are holding in solitary confinement and segregated housing. The warden is illegally obstructing our inquiry and we are now seeking a court’s assistance.”
The Center filed similar requests with other prisons, which promptly complied. ACC, being a privately-managed facility, followed the GEO Group’s practice of trying to ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Twelve prisoners at the maximum-security Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward, Alaska were stripped, searched, restrained, attached to “dog leashes,” paraded in front of female staff members and then left in cells without clothing, mattresses or blankets for 12 hours.
The incident may have never come to light had the Alaska State Ombudsman’s office not become involved. Four years after the incident, on September 19, 2017, the Ombudsman released a report that substantiated the shocking allegations of mistreatment and misconduct by prison staff.
According to the report, prisoners in two housing units broke plumbing equipment and flooded large areas of the facility in August 2013. On August 16, a dozen prisoners were removed from their cells, stripped naked, attached to cuff retainers referred to as “dog leashes” and paraded nude in front of female employees while guards laughed at them. They then spent up to 12 hours with no clothing or bedding in cold, filthy cells.
“The allegations are so shocking that they are almost unbelievable,” said Ombudsman Kate Burkhart.
Several of the prisoners filed grievances over their treatment. One claimed that he did not receive a write-up related to the flooding incident and thus ...
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held on August 31, 2017 that “a plaintiff who was in custody at the time he initiated his suit but was free when he filed his amended operative complaint is not a ‘prisoner’ subject to a PLRA [Prison Litigation Reform Act] exhaustion defense.”
In May 2010, Charles David Jackson was sent to California’s San Quentin State Prison to serve a sentence for second-degree burglary. He had suffered from mental illness since age four, having been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, panic disorder, social phobia and anti-social personality disorder.
He began meeting with San Quentin doctors in June 2010 and was told he did not qualify for the prison’s mental health program. Dr. K. Frieha told Jackson he could not “dictate the program and would not be provided treatment.”
Jackson requested that Dr. P. Burton place him in solitary confinement to treat his mental health issues; after the request was denied, Jackson threatened violence unless he was placed in solitary. That threat did the trick and he was put in segregation, where he remained until November 5, 2011.
During that period, Jackson’s physical and mental health “deteriorated significantly.” He “would often miss ...
by Derek Gilna
The parties to a May 2015 class-action settlement between prisoners at the Monterey County jail in California, county officials and the jail’s medical provider – which was supposed to address issues of poor medical and mental healthcare, inadequate staffing, accommodations for disabled prisoners and serious safety problems – were back in court in September 2017 to monitor compliance with the settlement agreement.
California Forensics Medical Group (CFMG), the county’s current medical and mental healthcare provider, was criticized by the judge monitoring the settlement over the quality of the company’s mental health treatment for prisoners.
The terms of the 2015 settlement included a payment of $4.8 million in attorney fees and costs, and a requirement that the county employ a full-time psychiatrist and have another on call at all times in an effort to reduce the increasing number of prisoner suicides at the jail. [See: PLN, April 2016, p.18]. However, CFMG admitted that it had only recently hired an on-site mental health professional due to difficultly in filling the position.
U.S. District Court Judge Beth L. Freeman was unsympathetic. “Maybe you need to offer a better salary,” she said, and indicated she was less ...
by Derek Gilna
In a November 2017 report, the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) found that despite the avowed purpose of the federal sentencing guidelines to promote sentencing uniformity across geographic and socio-economic lines, black defendants continue to receive longer sentences for similar offenses than whites. The report controlled for factors such as criminal history, age, education and citizenship.
According to the Commission, “Black male offenders received sentences on average 19.1 percent longer than similarly situated White male offenders during the Post-Report period (fiscal years 2012-2016), as they had for the prior four periods studied.”
A 2010 USSC report using similar metrics also found sentencing disparities: “Among other findings, the analysis showed that Black male offenders received longer sentences than White male offenders, and that the gap between the sentence lengths for Black and White male offenders was increasing.”
The Commission has conducted similar studies since the 2005 Supreme Court decision in Booker v. Washington, which made a judge’s adherence to the sentencing guidelines advisory rather than mandatory.
The 2017 report, which was based on “multivariate regression analyses,” noted that one source of racial disparities in sentencing was the federal government itself, due to how it ...
Ohio: Almost $3 Million Settlement in Suit Brought by Two Wrongfully Convicted Men
by Matt Clarke
In March 2017, a state court judge approved a $2.9 million settlement between Ohio and two men who each spent almost 17 years in prison after having been wrongfully convicted of rape and ...
by Matt Clarke
The parents and estate of a Texas man who died while incarcerated at the Hopkins County jail after he was repeatedly Tasered by police officers have settled a wrongful death suit filed against Hopkins County, the City of Sulphur Springs, jail personnel and police officers.
Tony Chance ...
by Matt Clarke
A surprise inspection by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General revealed a number of substandard conditions at an Orange County, California jail used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house detainees.
The Theo Lacy Facility is a 3,000-bed jail that contracts with ICE to hold over 500 male immigrant detainees. It has a history of problems, including a 2013 grand jury investigation that found sheriff’s deputies slept or played video games instead of performing their duties, and used jailhouse enforcers to punish other prisoners; a 2015 federal complaint alleging deputies abused detainees and denied them medical care; and a 2016 hunger strike over poor conditions. [See, e.g.: PLN, May 2009, p.26; Feb. 2009, p.1].
On November 16, 2016, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an unannounced inspection of the Theo Lacy jail. The OIG’s subsequent report, issued in March 2017, found conditions that “raised serious concerns, some that pose health risks and others that violate [ICE standards] and result in potentially unsafe conditions at the facility.” The report recommended that ICE take immediate action to strengthen oversight and ensure compliance with its standards.
The inspection found that ...
A pretrial detainee who was subjected to excessive force during the booking process at a jail in Sacramento County, California agreed to a settlement of almost $50,000.
Michael McCormack was arrested on a domestic violence charge stemming from a fight with his girlfriend on July 6, 2015. The lawsuit ...
by Dale Chappell
Promising to “continue peaceful protest to end tortuous practices of solitary confinement,” Prisoners United, a coalition of prisoners in California’s Bay Area jails backed by civil rights groups, described the purpose of their complaints in an open letter to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors on October 15, 2017.
The prisoners said they began a hunger strike to put an end to the abusive use of solitary confinement, unfair grievance practices, insufficient food and dirty clothing. The jails allow a change of clothing just once a week.
Prisoners at four facilities were involved in the protest: the Glenn Dyer Detention Center and the Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, plus the Main Jail and the Elmwood Correctional Complex in Santa Clara County.
The hunger strike began exactly one year after 100 Santa Clara prisoners ended another protest, when Sheriff Laurie Smith promised to improve jail conditions.
At Glenn Dyer, 82 prisoners remained locked in their cells 23 hours a day in segregation – even though most detainees at the facility were awaiting trial and had not been convicted.
“All the research points to just how bad it is for people’s mental health who are already suffering ...
Alabama: Morgan McCurdy, 23, a nurse at the DeKalb County jail, was arrested on July 20, 2017 after surveillance video confirmed suspicions that she was involved with smuggling drugs into the facility. DeKalb County Sheriff Jimmy Harris said the licensed practical nurse was jailed on charges of second-degree promoting prison contraband and possession of a controlled substance. Harris stated he and an undercover officer followed McCurdy after the county received information that there would be a drug drop in a restaurant parking lot nearby. A K9 was brought to the scene and alerted deputies to contraband in McCurdy’s vehicle. Inside, the sheriff said they found a package of methamphetamine, prescription pills, a cell phone charger and two cans of tobacco. According to Harris, “Ms. McCurdy has admitted her wrongdoing and is real remorseful.”
Arkansas: On September 21, 2017, the Arkansas Department of Health advised the Department of Correction and Correct Care Solutions, its for-profit medical contractor, to issue a quarantine at the East Arkansas Regional Unit after five suspected cases of chickenpox were reported. Quarantined prisoners had their visitation privileges restricted and could only congregate with other quarantined prisoners. Visitors were required to sign a notice acknowledging the presence ...