Skip navigation
Prisoner Education Guide

Prison Legal News: May, 2018

View as PDF
Issue PDF
Volume 29, Number 5

In this issue:

  1. In the Eye of the Storm: When Hurricanes Impact Prisons and Jails (p 1)
  2. Mass Incarceration is a Women’s Issue, Too (p 11)
  3. From the Editor (p 12)
  4. Photos Show Aftermath of Lethal South Carolina Prison Brawl that Left Seven Dead (p 12)
  5. Rash of Security Breaches Plagues Nation’s Prisons and Jails (p 14)
  6. Governor Vetoes Nevada’s Anti-Private Prison Bill (p 17)
  7. New Mexico Jail Sued by HRDC for Censoring Book Orders (p 18)
  8. PLN Censorship Suit Against Virginia Jail Headed to Trial (p 18)
  9. British Prison Guard Sentenced for Contraband Smuggling Conspiracy (p 19)
  10. “Witness to Human Torture”: On Both Sides of the Prison Walls, Social Workers Confront Solitary Confinement (p 20)
  11. “Survivors Guide to Prison,” by Matthew Cooke, director (Gravitas Ventures, February 2018); 102 minutes (p 24)
  12. Mother-Son Team Sentenced for Tax Fraud, Obstruction of Justice (p 25)
  13. California: Defendants’ Repeated Discovery Obstruction Sanctioned in Guard Sex Abuse Case (p 26)
  14. New York Law Gives Reformed Offenders an Opportunity to Seal Convictions (p 27)
  15. Judge Threatens Arizona Officials with Contempt Over Inadequate Prisoner Medical Care (p 28)
  16. Prison Chaplain Wins Standoff with BOP Over Carrying Pepper Spray (p 29)
  17. ACLU Sues Nebraska Over Unconstitutional Prison Conditions (p 30)
  18. San Quentin Newspaper Editor Arnulfo Garcia Leaves a Legacy (p 30)
  19. Prison Mailbox Rule Applied to South Carolina Prisoner’s Late PCR Petition (p 32)
  20. As Prison Populations Drop, Several States Close Facilities (p 32)
  21. Fifth Circuit Reinstates Denial of Medical Care Suit Against Texas County Jail (p 34)
  22. Massachusetts: State Court Officers May Not Enforce Immigration Detainers (p 34)
  23. Federal Prisoner Shot in the Eye Awarded $80,000 (p 35)
  24. Tennessee: New Trial Ordered in Prisoner’s Wrongful Death Case (p 36)
  25. Iowa Prison Officials Drop Disciplinary Sanctions in Controversial Case (p 38)
  26. Seventh Circuit Affirms Denial of Qualified Immunity in Jail Suicide Suit (p 38)
  27. New York Issues New Solitary Confinement Rules for Local Jails Amid Lawsuits, $5 Million Settlement (p 39)
  28. Court Certifies Class of Missouri Prisoners Denied Hepatitis C Treatment (p 40)
  29. Oregon Sex Offenders Get LWOP, Not Treatment (p 40)
  30. $330,000 for Florida Prison Guards Abused at Training Academy (p 42)
  31. Former Pennsylvania Guards Settle FMLA Lawsuits for $110,000 (p 42)
  32. Female Prisoners More Likely to be HIV Positive than Non-prisoners (p 43)
  33. $14.3 Million Settlement for Probationers Subject to Extortion by Private Company (p 44)
  34. Whistleblowing Angola Prisoner Who Faced Retaliation Wins Relief, Redemption (p 44)
  35. Indiana County Settles Jail Guard’s ADA/Discrimination Suit for $150,000 (p 46)
  36. Due Process Mandatory Before Texas Requires Sex Offender Registration for Crimes not Covered by Statute (p 46)
  37. $15,000 Award for New York Prisoner in Medical Negligence Case (p 47)
  38. The “Qualified Immunity” Doctrine Needs to be Reexamined (p 48)
  39. FTCA Claims Survive; PREA Policy Defeats Discretionary Function Exception (p 48)
  40. $437,500 Settlement for Brutal Beating at Missouri Jail (p 50)
  41. Confusion Over Insanity Defense Leads One Jury to Issue Two Verdicts in Triple Murder (p 50)
  42. Alabama: State Agencies Have Absolute Immunity in a Court of Law or Equity (p 51)
  43. California: Governor Signs Bill to Block Expansion of For-profit Detention Centers (p 52)
  44. Newspaper Investigation Reveals Significant Problem with Life Sentences in Arizona (p 52)
  45. Ohio: $75,000 Settlement Reached after 60-Year-Old Woman Body Slammed by Jail Guard (p 53)
  46. Federal Lawsuit Filed Against Oklahoma Sheriffs – All of Them (p 54)
  47. Dying Prisoner’s Complaint Alleged Claim for Failure to Treat Hepatitis C (p 54)
  48. Virginia Federal Court Holds Nation of Gods and Earth is a Religion (p 55)
  49. Major Wage Ratio Gap Between Executives, Employees at Private Prisons (p 56)
  50. Former Michigan Prisoner Receives Over $817,000 for Wrongful Conviction (p 56)
  51. Oklahoma Lawmaker Introduces Bill to Lift Prison Smoking Ban (p 57)
  52. Phony New York Lawyer Defrauds Prisoners, Sent to Prison (p 58)
  53. Nebraska Sheriffs Profiting from Jail Phone Contracts (p 58)
  54. North Dakota: Altered Pencil in Prison Results in Weapon Possession Conviction (p 59)
  55. Pro Se Rhode Island Prisoner Wins First Amendment Settlement (p 59)
  56. Wrongful Death Case Against New York Jail Settles for $101,500 (p 60)
  57. U.S. Coast Guard Operating Inhumane Floating Prisons (p 60)
  58. Porn Reading Rooms in Iowa Prisons Placed on Legislative Hit List (p 61)
  59. North Carolina Woman Attempts Bail Bond Scheme from Inside Jail (p 61)
  60. Washington Prisoner’s Negligence Suit Settles for $75,000 (p 62)
  61. Justice Department Failing to Assess Prison Population Reduction, Clemency and Reentry Programs (p 62)
  62. News in Brief (p 63)

In the Eye of the Storm: When Hurricanes Impact Prisons and Jails

by Matt Clarke

Hurricanes and other major storms represent a significant threat to prisoners. Prisons and jails are often built on poorly-drained land located in flood plains or other environmentally-sensitive areas. Although meteorologists usually warn of hurricanes days or even weeks before they make landfall, prisoners cannot move themselves to higher ground and storms sometimes develop in unanticipated ways.

Corrections officials are faced with a difficult choice when warned of an approaching storm. They can stay in place, potentially exposing staff and prisoners to dangerous, even fatal conditions, or they can evacuate prisoners to a safer location. However, evacuation also has disadvantages – it is expensive and not without its own dangers as prisoners could try to escape. Also, if a detention facility is near a densely-populated area, transport buses can become mired in evacuation traffic, resulting in guards and prisoners having to ride out a hurricane while stalled on highways.

Even if an evacuation goes off without a hitch, prisoners may be housed in places not designed as living areas, such as gyms or chapels at other facilities. Those areas will not have adequate sanitation for such a large number of people, and the receiving prison’s medical, food, hygiene ...

Mass Incarceration is a Women’s Issue, Too

by Jessicah Pierre, OtherWords

Over the last few years, our broken criminal justice system has become a national issue as horrific stories of victims of mass incarceration have made their way into the mainstream media.

The dominant narrative around this issue is usually that it disproportionately affects people of color, particularly men.

Many folks have heard of Kalief Browder, a New York teenager who took his own life after suffering nearly three years in solitary confinement, all for allegedly stealing a backpack. He was never tried.

Fewer people know about Maria Elena Hernandez, a retired California housecleaner who was jailed after police rejected her (accurate) protests that they’d mistaken her for someone else.

Although women represent a small portion of it, they are currently the fastest-growing segment of our prison population.

There are 219,000 women currently incarcerated in the United States. A new report by the Prison Policy Initiative and the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice found that “a staggering number” of them haven’t even been convicted. “More than a quarter of women who are behind bars have not yet had a trial,” they found.

Worse still, there are a number of public health and economic consequences for ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

Welcome to the 28th anniversary issue of Prison Legal News. If someone had told me in 1990, when PLN first started, that nearly three decades later we would not only still be publishing but I would still be serving as the editor and we would have 19 employees, I would have been incredulous.

When Ed Mead and I founded PLN while incarcerated in Washington State, we had $300 between us to publish six issues. We had discussed how we would continue to publish, and decided that as long as donations and subscriptions kept coming in we would keep publishing. They did, and we haven’t stopped since then.

Each year the list of people who support PLN and our parent organization, the Human Rights Defense Center, grows longer. Those who have made our work possible have ranged from the many unpaid volunteers who helped us get started in the early 1990s to our board members, employees, the attorneys who ensured prisoners could actually receive and read PLN, our advertisers, donors and of course our subscribers.

The first issue of PLN was 10 pages long and we requested a $10 donation for a 12-issue subscription. That we have grown ...

Photos Show Aftermath of Lethal South Carolina Prison Brawl that Left Seven Dead

by Steve Horn

Photos obtained by Prison Legal News appear to show the bloody aftermath of a riot that occurred at the Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina around 7:15 p.m. on April 15, 2018. The violence, which culminated in the deaths of seven prisoners, was the deadliest event of its sort in the past quarter-century in the United States – since the April 1993 riot at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville that resulted in the deaths of nine prisoners and a guard.

A source who requested anonymity and said he is currently imprisoned at the Lee facility in Bishopville provided PLN with a series of photos that appear to have been taken with a cell phone. The images show several dead or badly-wounded bodies covered with blood and a blood-soaked floor. PLN could not verify the photos at press time, and our investigation into the authenticity of the graphic pictures remains ongoing.

Along with the seven prisoners who were killed, whose names and photos were published by the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC), another 22 were wounded and are reportedly being treated. According to the SCDC’s official account of the incident posted on its ...

Rash of Security Breaches Plagues Nation’s Prisons and Jails

by Christopher Zoukis

A review of recent news reports has revealed a recent spate of security breaches by both jail detainees and state and federal prisoners across the country. In October 2017 alone, escapes were reported in ten states involving at least 19 prisoners. Though most of those incidents were nonviolent, some involved injuries and fatalities.

One of the most violent occurred in North Carolina, where an October 12, 2017 escape attempt from a state prison resulted in the deaths of four employees and injuries to a dozen other people at the Pasquotank Correctional Institution in Elizabeth City.

According to the state Department of Public Safety (DPS), the incident began at around 3:30 p.m. when prisoners started a fire in the facility’s sewing plant – an industry program where safety vests and embroidered items are made as part of the state’s Correction Enterprises.

Calls to 911 made by staff members indicated that prisoners were attacking guards with hammers and stabbing them with scissors. Pasquotank County Sheriff Randy Cartwright told the Charlotte Observer that the situation could have been worse were it not for the rapid response of law enforcement, who initially found things were out of control.

“It ...

Governor Vetoes Nevada’s Anti-Private Prison Bill

by Monte McCoin

Assembly Bill 303, introduced by Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno, a former prison guard, would have granted the Nevada Department of Corrections a five-year period to renovate existing prison facilities before eliminating the state’s relationship with for-profit prison firms. The bill progressed through the Nevada legislature with a 38-3 vote in the Assembly on May 24, 2017 before being sent to the state Senate Judiciary Committee, then the full Senate.

According to news reports, the bill was struck down on June 8, 2017 when Governor Brian Sandoval issued a veto. Sandoval explained his reasoning in a statement, saying: “Where AB 303 goes too far, however, is by limiting the discretion of the Director of the Department of Corrections by prohibiting the use of private prisons, starting in 2022. Between now and 2022, much can happen, and there is no way to predict whether private prisons may need to play a critical part in Nevada’s future prison needs.”

Some lawmakers don’t like the idea of for-profit incarceration on principle, while civil rights advocates have raised concerns that private prison companies are not subject to public records laws on the federal level and in some states.

“There’s really no oversight ...

New Mexico Jail Sued by HRDC for Censoring Book Orders

by Derek Gilna

The Santa Fe County Correctional Facility in New Mexico, already cited by the U.S. Department of Justice for shoddy medical care and poor management, has been sued by the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), publisher of Prison Legal News, for rejecting books sent to detainees at the jail.

The complaint, filed in federal district court on April 2, 2018, claims the defendants “unconstitutionally prohibit delivery of Plaintiff’s books to prisoners housed in the Santa Fe [jail] ... in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

PLN’s monthly publication apparently has been delivered to prisoners without being censored, but not so for book orders – which are sent back marked “return to sender.” According to the complaint, books rejected by jail officials have included The Habeas Citebook: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel, Protecting Your Health and Safety, Prisoners’ Guerrilla Handbook: A Guide to Correspondence Programs in the United States and Canada, and other titles related to vocational training.

As noted in the complaint, “The purpose of HRDC is to educate prisoners and the public about the destructive nature of racism, sexism, and the economic and social costs of prisons to society. HRDC accomplishes its ...

PLN Censorship Suit Against Virginia Jail Headed to Trial

A lawsuit filed by Prison Legal News against censorship practices at the Northwest Regional Adult Detention Center (NWADC) in Winchester, Virginia has been scheduled for a jury trial later this year.

The suit will proceed with NWADC and Superintendent James F. Whitley as named defendants, and alleges the jail “adopted and implemented policies that unconstitutionally prohibit delivery of publications to prisoners in their custody and do not afford senders of censored mail due process notice and an opportunity to challenge the censorship as required by the Constitution.”

Subsequent to the complaint being filed, two consent orders were entered. As a result, prisoners were allowed to possess more books and receive publications through the mail while the case is pending. Further, the consent decrees require the sender and recipient to be notified if mail is rejected, with a specific reason given for the rejection, and the sender or prisoner must be afforded an opportunity to file a written appeal.

The consent decrees did not resolve all the issues raised in the suit, especially those involving declaratory relief, damages and attorney fees. In September 2017, the district court issued an order on the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment.

The court considered ...

British Prison Guard Sentenced for Contraband Smuggling Conspiracy

by Monte McCoin

More than 60 handwritten, sexually graphic letters contained all the proof that prosecutors needed to convict a female guard for her role in a conspiracy to smuggle phones, spice, Subutex, steroids, cannabis, porn and vodka into HMP Full Sutton in East Yorkshire, to give to prisoner Falak Alam.

Prosecutor Mark McKone said the guard, Anita Allenby, 57, “fell in love with [] Alam, despite being 29 years older than him.” He added, “Falak Alam might or might not have been in love with her, but they had a sexual relationship, as evidenced by the letters.”

The conspiracy, which took place in December 2014 and for several months prior, was led by Alam, who “used his profoundly intellectually disabled” brother, Arif Alam, to deliver the contraband to Allenby. The guard then smuggled the items into the prison. According to court records, Alam offered to pay £1,500 for three memory sticks loaded with pornography and £500 per phone.

On June 24, 2017, Hull Crown Court Judge David Tremberg sentenced Allenby to 5 years and 10 months in prison after she admitted to charges of conspiracy to supply MDMA (ecstasy), conspiracy to supply cannabis and conveying cell phones ...

“Witness to Human Torture”: On Both Sides of the Prison Walls, Social Workers Confront Solitary Confinement

by Valerie Kiebala, Solitary Watch

Esther Lim, a social worker employed by the ACLU to monitor Los Angeles County jails, was meeting with an incarcerated man in an attorney meeting room in 2011 when she heard what sounded like a fight. She looked through a window to see two deputies repeatedly beating an incarcerated man, James Parker, and shocking him with a Taser.

Parker was “not moving or resisting in any way for what seemed to me about two minutes,” Lim later testified. “During the beating, the deputies repeatedly shouted, ‘Stop resisting!’ and ‘Stop fighting!’ while the prisoner lay limp on the floor.”

Lim hit the window with her palm in an attempt to get the attention of the deputies. Soon after, she heard over the public announcement speaker, “Stay in your seat.” The deputy signaled her to move away from the window.

Lim later testified in the 2011 case Rutherford v. Baca that “Mr. Parker looked like he was a mannequin that was being used as a punching bag as he was not showing any sort of movement. I thought he was knocked out or perhaps even dead.”

The following day, Lim received ...

“Survivors Guide to Prison,” by Matthew Cooke, director (Gravitas Ventures, February 2018); 102 minutes

Movie review by Steve Horn

A newly-released film that serves as an informative guide to surviving a stint in a U.S. jail or prison has hit the screens, and is streaming for a $4 rental fee on YouTube and Google Play, $5 on Amazon and is available for purchase on iTunes for $13. Titled “Survivors Guide to Prison,” the movie takes the viewer through a step-by-step process of how to make it out the other end of the tunnel if your life gets turned upside-down and you end up behind bars.

While serving as a how-to guide for each potential step of the incarceration process, the film also tells the broader tale of mass incarceration, human rights abuses in prisons and jails, the mental health crisis within penal facilities and racial biases endemic in the U.S. criminal justice system. That’s just to name a few of the myriad topics it tackles. “Survivors Guide” also utilizes the stories of multiple wrongful convictions as a way to tie the narrative together, and to demonstrate that even if you’re innocent, you could end up behind bars.

Matthew Cooke’s “Survivors Guide to Prison” has been well-received, with a 100% approval rating ...

Mother-Son Team Sentenced for Tax Fraud, Obstruction of Justice

by Derek Gilna

Debra Skipper, a 61-year-old Ohio woman, was sentenced on October 31, 2017 in federal district court in Clarksburg, West Virginia to a split sentence of six months in jail and six months of home detention on a charge of tax fraud. Her co-defendant and son, Tyree Skipper, pleaded guilty to two counts of felony aggravated identity theft after stealing tax identification numbers from fellow prisoners at FCI Gilmer. He was sentenced on May 30, 2017 and will serve two additional years in prison.

Incarcerated fraudsters have engaged in similar schemes for many years, using stolen Social Security numbers to file false tax returns. Prison Legal News has reported that such scams have cost the Internal Revenue Service hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past – and resulted in numerous prisoners being prosecuted. [See: PLN, Dec. 2014, p.46; Aug. 2011, p.10; May 2007, p.22].

Debra Skipper, a first-time federal offender, had declined to plead guilty, which would have yielded a potential sentencing range of four to 10 months. She instead opted to go to a jury trial, where she was found guilty of two counts of aiding and abetting wire fraud and one count ...

California: Defendants’ Repeated Discovery Obstruction Sanctioned in Guard Sex Abuse Case

On June 5, 2017, a California federal district court imposed sanctions against prison officials for destroying a warden’s personnel file and concealing or misrepresenting his involuntary termination and the existence of personnel file documents. The court granted the plaintiffs an adverse inference jury instruction regarding spoliation of the file, as well as monetary sanctions.

In 2012, California prisoners Jossie Ramos and Melissa Ortiz filed a lawsuit alleging that prison officials failed to take reasonable measures to protect them from sexual abuse by guards. They also brought suit in state court, which was stayed from September 2012 until August 2015.

California Institute for Women (CIW) warden Guillermo Garcia retired on February 28, 2013. While the state case was stayed, the plaintiffs submitted repeated discovery requests in the federal action between June 4, 2013 and January 2015, seeking Garcia’s personnel file and the reason for his termination. Garcia claimed not to have his file, while CIW and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) claimed the file had been shredded despite being the subject of a June 17, 2011 litigation hold. Garcia was also evasive in his answers about whether his retirement was voluntary or not.

During a November 13, 2014 ...

New York Law Gives Reformed Offenders an Opportunity to Seal Convictions

by Derek Gilna

A 2017 New York law, CPL 160.59, gives certain nonviolent offenders an opportunity to have their state convictions sealed, according to attorneys Ed Kratt and Frank Rothman. One of their clients, Joel Figueroa, a former drug dealer convicted in 2001 who graduated from college and now works as a counselor for Catholic Charities of New York, was the first to take advantage of the new statute that was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo and went into effect on October 7, 2017.

Most ex-prisoners face significant challenges when they reenter society and try to obtain employment, due to their criminal record. Governor Cuomo agreed, saying, “Law-abiding New Yorkers should not be forever branded with the stigma of a nonviolent criminal conviction when they have turned their lives around.”

According to Kratt, “[Figueroa] came from a pretty tough neighborhood and clearly had some challenges in his life. It wasn’t surprising he got into drugs.” Kratt and Rothman said their client is now “dedicated to helping less fortunate children and families in the City of New York.”

According to the petition to have his record sealed, Figueroa has had no new arrests since ...

Judge Threatens Arizona Officials with Contempt Over Inadequate Prisoner Medical Care

by David M. Reutter

On October 10, 2017, a federal district court in Arizona issued an order requiring officials with the Department of Corrections (DOC) to show cause why they should not be held in contempt of a 2014 court-enforced settlement agreement. U.S. Magistrate Judge David K. Duncan also threatened the DOC with sanctions of $1,000 per incident of noncompliance with its agreement to improve medical care for the state’s 33,000 prisoners.

Thirteen prisoners filed suit against the DOC in 2012, alleging deliberate indifference to their medical, dental and mental health care needs, as well as unconstitutional conditions of confinement within the DOC’s segregation units. The case was certified as a class-action and the parties eventually entered into an agreement in 2014 to remedy the constitutional deficiencies. [See: PLN, Feb. 2016, p.56; Sept. 2012, p.34].

Under the settlement, the DOC agreed to guidelines and benchmarks that both the plaintiffs and Magistrate Judge David Duncan said hadn’t been met. Instead, the agency has run an “understaffed” health care system, according to a summary of investigative findings published by Courthouse News, in which “an inmate died with infected lesions swarmed by flies, a man who ate his ...

Prison Chaplain Wins Standoff with BOP Over Carrying Pepper Spray

by Monte McCoin

Rev. Ronald Apollo, head chaplain at FCI Bennettsville, a medium-security federal prison in South Carolina, prevailed against the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) in his challenge to a 2015 order that effectively prevented him from carrying out his ministerial duties. Apollo, who is a member of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith and eschews “the weapons of human strife,” was assigned to a desk job and prohibited from face-to-face contact with prisoners when he refused to arm himself with oleoresin capsicum – pepper spray – while meeting with and counseling prisoners.

The BOP’s policy required Rev. Apollo, and “any officer or employee of Bureau of Prisons who is employed in a prison that is not a minimum or low security prison,” to carry OC spray while interacting with prisoners. Apollo and two subordinate chaplains at FCI Bennettsville appealed to the facility’s warden and BOP officials, but were told they had to comply with the directive.

Both Rev. Apollo and the Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit organization that provides assistance in cases where it believes Christian values and religious freedoms are being violated, opined that the policy “created a barrier of trust ...

ACLU Sues Nebraska Over Unconstitutional Prison Conditions

by Matt Clarke

On August 16, 2017, the ACLU of Nebraska, ACLU National Prison Project, Nebraska Appleseed, National Association of the Deaf and two law firms, DLA Piper and Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP, filed a federal class-action suit against the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS), Nebraska Board of Parole and various state officials, alleging that conditions in NDCS facilities violate prisoners’ constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12132 and the Rehabilitation Act, 28 U.S.C. § 794.

The 87-page complaint, filed on behalf of 11 prisoners, included harrowing accounts of maltreatment at the hands of NDCS officials. At its core are claims that NDCS facilities are overcrowded, underfunded and understaffed. At 5,228, the state’s prison population is around 160% of its capacity of 3,275. This “extreme” overcrowding reportedly has resulted in “needless suffering.” Additionally, the Board of Parole was accused of disproportionately screening out prisoners with disabilities and failing to provide accommodations for disabled prisoners.

“For over twenty years, Nebraska state prisons have been overcrowded, under-resourced, and understaffed. The result is a dangerous system in perpetual crisis,” according ...

San Quentin Newspaper Editor Arnulfo Garcia Leaves a Legacy

by Dale Chappell

Arnulfo Garcia, sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, turned his life around and received a second chance when he was released on July 24, 2017 after serving 16 years. Two months later he was killed in a car crash. He was 65.

During his term as the editor-in-chief of the San Quentin News, a paper produced by prisoners at the infamous California facility, he transformed it into a serious journalism publication that is now distributed to 69 prisons across the country. He also transformed other prisoners’ lives.

After being sentenced as a convicted armed burglar and heroin addict, Garcia was determined to change and to help others do the same.

“He taught me how to be a man, how to be a father, to be responsible and accountable for my actions,” said Richard Richardson, a prisoner who took over as the newspaper’s editor when Garcia was released.

“It takes a team to make it to the moon,” Garcia would say. His “team” used the San Quentin News to give prisoners a voice and educate them on how they could improve themselves while incarcerated. The newspaper also featured profiles and editorials about prison conditions ...

Prison Mailbox Rule Applied to South Carolina Prisoner’s Late PCR Petition

In an August 16, 2017 ruling, the South Carolina Supreme Court held that if a petitioner presents a valid equitable tolling defense for filing a post-conviction relief (PCR) petition beyond the statute of limitations, the limitations period “shall be tolled until the application is delivered to and received by the Clerk of Court.”

Before the Supreme Court was the appeal of prisoner Renwick Mose, whose PCR application was stamped “filed” by the clerk on March 10, 2014 – three days after the one-year statute of limitations had expired. Mose presented evidence to the trial court that he gave his PCR to prison officials to notarize and mail on February 18, 2014, or 17 days before the end of the statute of limitations.

On appeal, Mose reiterated his argument that he “clearly made a good faith effort to meet the deadline.” Alternatively, he argued he was entitled to equitable tolling because he gave his PCR to prison officials for mailing well before the deadline and the delay in its delivery to the clerk “was due to no fault of his own.”

The state Supreme Court agreed. It recognized and accepted the rationale behind the “prison mailbox rule” established ...

As Prison Populations Drop, Several States Close Facilities

by Dale Chappell and Matt Clarke

Connecticut has closed another prison as the state Department of Correction’s population continues to fall. Officials confirmed that Enfield Correctional Institution, a 700-bed medium-security facility, closed in January 2018.

State officials cited falling crime rates, demographic trends and sentencing reform for the decline in Connecticut’s prison population. After peaking in 2008, the population has steadily dropped, especially during the past two years after the state repealed its mandatory minimum laws for minor drug crimes.

“To have fewer reasons to incarcerate people, that’s a good thing,” said Governor Dannel P. Malloy, who supports prison and sentencing reform. “New prison admissions have declined 38 percent over the last 10 years and the prison population has reached its lowest level in 23 years,” he added.

The closure of the Enfield facility will save the state an estimated $6.5 million annually. It also cost the local community 190 jobs.

“While it is unfortunate that the facility is closing, we must look to the positive point that there are less crimes taking place within our communities,” said state Senator John Kissel, who co-chairs the legislature’s judiciary committee.

Nearby, the Southeastern State Correctional Facility in Windsor ...

Fifth Circuit Reinstates Denial of Medical Care Suit Against Texas County Jail

by Matt Clarke

On June 15, 2017, in an unpublished ruling, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a lawsuit brought by a former jail prisoner alleging he was denied adequate medical care at the Nueces County jail in Corpus Christi, Texas.

When Adam A. Balle was arrested by two police officers following a domestic dispute, he was already suffering from diabetes and a back disability. While escorting the handcuffed Balle to the police car, one of the officers kicked him twice in the middle of the back. He fell to the ground while experiencing sharp back pain.

Police took him to the Corpus Christi Detention Center, where he was held for several hours without medical attention before being transported to the Nueces County jail. During the six days he was held at the jail, Balle experienced excruciating pain and paralysis of his legs. He lost control of his bodily functions, causing him to “soil himself.” Despite repeated requests for medical care, his condition was either ignored or inadequately addressed, with medical personnel “checking and clearing” him.

Balle was finally transported to a hospital where he was diagnosed with back injuries and underwent surgery. He reportedly remains unable to ...

Massachusetts: State Court Officers May Not Enforce Immigration Detainers

by Matt Clarke

On July 24, 2017, a Massachusetts court held that state law provides no authority for court officers to arrest and hold an individual, solely on the basis of a federal civil immigration detainer, beyond the time he or she would otherwise be entitled to release.

Sreynuon Lunn was arrested for robbery and arraigned in Boston Municipal Court in October 2016. The day before his arraignment, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a standard civil immigration detainer against Lunn, requesting that he be held for up to two days after he would otherwise be released, to allow immigration officials to take him into custody.

Unable to post $1,500 bond, Lunn remained in jail. Over three months later he was transported to the courthouse and turned over to court officers. Because the state was not ready for trial, the court dismissed the criminal charges for want of prosecution on February 6, 2017.

Lunn’s attorney brought up the immigration detainer and asked the court to order his client’s release nonetheless. The court did not rule on the request and court officers held Lunn for several hours in a courthouse holding cell until he was taken into custody ...

Federal Prisoner Shot in the Eye Awarded $80,000

by Jeremy Pinson

On January 26, 2018, following a three-day bench trial, federal prisoner Oray Fifer was awarded $80,000 in a Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) suit by a district court in Phoenix, Arizona.

In December 2011 and August 2012, Fifer filed administrative tort claims with the federal Bureau ...

Tennessee: New Trial Ordered in Prisoner’s Wrongful Death Case

by Steve Horn

On April 5, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that a lawsuit over the death of 33-year-old Charles “Jason” Toll – a prisoner who died in 2010 after being forcibly removed from his solitary confinement cell at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution (RMSI) in Nashville, Tennessee – should be remanded for another trial.

The Court of Appeals concluded that a February 2011 resignation letter written by William Amonette, an RMSI guard who had participated in the cell extraction involving Toll, should have been disclosed during the discovery process in the suit. Amonette’s letter, first reported by The New York Times in July 2014, centered around his belief that his concerns about the handling of Toll’s cell extraction were brushed aside by upper-level prison brass.

Amonette further wrote in his resignation letter that he felt he did not receive the proper number of training hours needed to carry out cell extractions, and that he was asked to lie on a document saying he had completed the proper training.

“This is falsification of training records,” he wrote. “With the extenuating allegations surrounding proper officer training, I felt it necessary to make you ...

Iowa Prison Officials Drop Disciplinary Sanctions in Controversial Case

by Matt Clarke

In 2009, Iowa state prisoner Joe Byrd was accused of participating in a prison gang rape along with four other prisoners. He not only asserted his innocence, but steadfastly maintained that the crime never happened. After a seven-year battle over disciplinary charges, the Iowa Department of Corrections (DOC) announced last year that it was removing all the disciplinary sanctions imposed on Byrd due to the rape allegations in exchange for Byrd dropping his disciplinary appeal and agreeing not to sue the department.

Phillip Mears, Byrd’s attorney for over 35 years, said the compromise ends “the most incredibly remarkable and unusual” prison disciplinary proceeding he had ever seen.

The case started at the Newton Correctional Facility when a prisoner claimed he had been raped in Byrd’s cell for two to three hours by five other prisoners. Prison officials launched an investigation into Byrd – who was serving a 25-year sentence for a 2007 robbery – and four other prisoners.

By the time he was charged with a disciplinary offense for the rape, Byrd had been transferred to Anamosa State Penitentiary where William Soupene was serving as an administrative law judge. Soupene reviewed reams of confidential evidence – including ...

Seventh Circuit Affirms Denial of Qualified Immunity in Jail Suicide Suit

by Matt Clarke

On July 26, 2017, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a Wisconsin federal district court’s denial of qualified immunity to a jail guard and privately-contracted nurse after they ignored a prisoner’s risk assessment indicating a maximum risk of suicide.

Ryan L. Clark’s breath test showed he had a blood alcohol content level of 0.27, over three times the legal limit for driving, when he was booked into the Green Lake County Jail for violating the terms of his extended supervision. The supervision was from his fifth conviction for operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, and this was the eighth time his extended supervision supervisor had requested he be placed on “hold” for violating the terms of his supervision by drinking alcohol.

Clark had a history of alcoholism and depression. The jail had previously documented his serious risk of suicide, including instances of self-harm and a suicide attempt the previous year. Each time he had been admitted into the facility he was placed on Special Observation Watch, requiring observation every 15 minutes as a suicide prevention measure.

Officer Bruce Walker performed the intake process, including the administration of the Spillman Initial Inmate Assessment ...

New York Issues New Solitary Confinement Rules for Local Jails Amid Lawsuits, $5 Million Settlement

by Christopher Zoukis

On October 17, 2017, the New York Commission of Correction issued new rules governing the treatment of prisoners held in solitary confinement in local jails. The rules came in the wake of several class-action lawsuits over the use of and conditions in solitary, one of which recently ...

Court Certifies Class of Missouri Prisoners Denied Hepatitis C Treatment

by Matt Clarke

On July 26, 2017 (two days before World Hepatitis Day), the ACLU of Missouri and the MacArthur Justice Center (MJC) announced the certification of a class of Missouri Department of Corrections (MDOC) prisoners who have been denied treatment for hepatitis C (HCV) under the prevailing standard of care.

With the assistance of ACLU attorneys Gillian R. Wilcox and Anthony E. Rothert, and MJC attorney Amy E. Breihan, three MDOC prisoners – Michael Postawko, Christopher Baker and Michael Jamerson – filed a class-action federal civil rights suit against state prison officials and Corizon, the MDOC’s for-profit health care provider, seeking treatment under the prevailing standard of care for prisoners infected with HCV. According to court documents, the standard of care endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control is treatment of all HCV-infected persons with direct-acting antiviral (DAA) drugs.

DAAs work quicker, cause fewer side effects and are more successful at treating chronic HCV infections than the previous treatment standard using interferon and ribavirin. They are also more expensive, a justification the MDOC uses to treat only a few HCV-infected prisoners. The additional cost is offset by a cure rate of over 90%.

Untreated HCV infections can cause liver ...

Oregon Sex Offenders Get LWOP, Not Treatment

“This bill will finally get at protecting our community from the most dangerous of sexual criminals,” said Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, testifying in support of legislation he co-­sponsored to enact a “two strikes and you’re out” law for repeat sex offenders.

The Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) reports that 4,475 (30.6 percent) of its 14,644 prisoners committed sex offences. Yet, as part of the tough-on-crime policies of the 1990s, Governor John Kitzhaber abolished prison-based sex offender treatment, so prisoners receive no treatment before being released.

“This type of criminal has haunted me for years,” Sen. Courtney said. “Hearing about these heinous crimes – many committed against children – really messed me up.” As early as 1991, Courtney began sponsoring bills requiring mandatory life sentences for sex offenders, but they died in committee. “People were concerned that they went too far,” he admitted during his 2017 testimony.

Nevertheless, in 2001, Oregon lawmakers finally enacted a “three strikes and you’re out” law, requiring life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (LWOP) for people convicted of a third sex offense. Contrary to Courtney’s claim that such laws target the “most dangerous of sexual criminals,” ...

$330,000 for Florida Prison Guards Abused at Training Academy

The Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) agreed to pay $330,000 to settle claims brought by a trio of former guards who alleged they were fired after complaining of being physically abused at the department’s training academy at the Wakulla Correctional Institution.

The settlement resolved a multi-count complaint filed by ...

Former Pennsylvania Guards Settle FMLA Lawsuits for $110,000

by Derek Gilna

In March 2017, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania settled two federal lawsuits filed by former guards who alleged violations of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In the first case, the county agreed to pay $90,000 to settle a suit brought by six guards – Allen Joyce, Matthew ...

Female Prisoners More Likely to be HIV Positive than Non-prisoners

by Ed Lyon

Data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), released in an August 2017 report, found that female prisoners are nine times more likely to have HIV than non-incarcerated women. With the total HIV-positive female population being 0.14 percent in the U.S., this means approximately 1.3 percent of incarcerated women in state and federal prisons have HIV, based on 2015 data.

A wider gap exists for HIV rates among women in jails. There are over 3,200 city or county-run jails in the United States. One study of jailed women’s health records in New York City showed nine percent of those who were newly-incarcerated were HIV positive – almost seven times higher than women in state and federal prisons, based on data from 2009 to 2010. Black women held in jails “are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with HIV as white or Hispanic/Latino women,” according to the CDC.

The CDC and BJS data found that most female prisoners with HIV were infected before their incarceration. “Jails and prisons are places where a disproportional number of HIV-infected women ...

$14.3 Million Settlement for Probationers Subject to Extortion by Private Company

Pathways (formerly Providence) Community Corrections (PCC) and officials in Rutherford County, Tennessee agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit over predatory practices by the for-profit probation company. The $14.3 million settlement provides compensation for nearly 30,000 people who were trapped by PCC in a cycle of debt, endless probation ...

Whistleblowing Angola Prisoner Who Faced Retaliation Wins Relief, Redemption

William Kissinger was “widely regarded as a positive leader at Angola by both prisoners and staff” over the 27 years he spent at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. That is, until corrections officials became incensed with the content of his email conversations with Maya Lau, a reporter for The Advocate, a Baton Rouge-based newspaper, in 2015.

Lau reached out to Kissinger, 64, after she learned he had won a whistleblower case in 1995 after he experienced retaliation for exposing the relabeling and sale of expired cans of food. Lau sent Kissinger a letter and asked to be placed on his visitation list.

Kissinger’s previous experiences made him anxious about contact with the press. Therefore, he advised a staff member about the letter and was told that Asst. Warden Bruce Dodd said Kissinger should “not worry about” communicating with Lau. Kissinger sent a message to Lau through a friend’s monitored email system, advising her to establish a JPay account so they could correspond.

In December 2015, Lau and Kissinger exchanged emails about life at Angola and corruption involving funds generated from the infamous Angola prison rodeo. Then, on February 1, 2016, “Kissinger sent Lau a message indicating he had a large amount ...

Indiana County Settles Jail Guard’s ADA/Discrimination Suit for $150,000

by Matt Clarke

In July 2017, an Indiana county settled a civil rights lawsuit brought by former jail guard Michael A. Jones that included claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The suit alleged the jail refused to accommodate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from his finding a prisoner ...

Due Process Mandatory Before Texas Requires Sex Offender Registration for Crimes not Covered by Statute

by Matt Clarke

On August 8, 2017, a Texas federal district court determined that requiring a person on community supervision to register as a sex offender for a crime not covered by the Texas Sex Offender Registration Act, Art. 62.001 et seq., Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, without first ...

$15,000 Award for New York Prisoner in Medical Negligence Case

A New York Court of Claims awarded $15,000 to a prisoner after a nurse failed to timely diagnose and treat his heart attack.

While running to first base during a softball game on May 25, 2011, Shawangunk Correctional Facility (SCF) prisoner Juan Serrano, 53, experienced shortness of breath, felt ...

The “Qualified Immunity” Doctrine Needs to be Reexamined

by Derek Gilna

According to criminal justice expert and University of Chicago professor William Baude, “The doctrine of qualified immunity prevents government agents from being held personally liable for constitutional violations unless the violation was of ‘clearly established law.’”

Unfortunately, this doctrine has resulted in a lack of accountability for prison and jail officials who engage in misconduct, Baude said in his article, “Is Qualified Immunity Unlawful?,” published in the California Law Review in February 2018.

Prison employees can be negligent in the performance of their duties, even to the point of being reckless, and still escape responsibility when sued. Qualified immunity is often justified as shielding government employees from the threat of litigation when they were unaware that their actions or inactions were unconstitutional.

Qualified immunity is frequently raised in litigation involving publicly-operated prisons and jails. Employees of privately-run facilities are not entitled to raise a qualified immunity defense. See: Richardson v. McKnight, 521 U.S. 399 (1997).

In Texas, a federal appellate court issued an opinion in the case of Ezmerelda Rivera, who was sexually assaulted in 2014 after being arrested for public intoxication and taken to the Hale County Jail. There, guard Manuel Fierros took ...

FTCA Claims Survive; PREA Policy Defeats Discretionary Function Exception

by Jeremy Pinson

While confined at the U.S. Penitentiary in Pollock, Louisiana, federal prisoner Rashod L. James filed suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671-2680, against the United States and several prison employees – including Officer LeCroix and Warden Mike D. Carvajal – ...

$437,500 Settlement for Brutal Beating at Missouri Jail

A pretrial detainee who was brutally beaten without cause by guards at Missouri’s Jackson County Detention Center (JCDC) accepted $437,500 to settle his civil rights suit.

James J. Ramirez was being held in the medical wing at JCDC after his arrest on a probation violation. He was suffering from ...

Confusion Over Insanity Defense Leads One Jury to Issue Two Verdicts in Triple Murder

by Christopher Zoukis

A jury’s decision that a defendant on trial for murder was mentally ill but should go to prison led a judge to initially withhold judgment in the case.

Dan Popp, 41, was tried in November 2017 for the murders of Phia Vue, Mai K. Vue and Jesus R. Manso-Perez. The jurors saw video evidence of Popp’s erratic behavior in a police vehicle and during interrogation; they also heard from two court-appointed mental health experts, both of whom testified that Popp suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. According to the experts, Popp was under the delusion that his victims were robots intent on harming children when he killed them. The experts opined that Popp met the standard for Wisconsin’s insanity defense.

But the district attorney reminded the jury that the ultimate decision as to Popp’s mental state was up to them.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the initial verdict form returned by the jury indicated they found Popp to be mentally ill, and that his illness prevented him from knowing his actions were wrong or resisting them. The verdict tracked Wisconsin’s definition of not guilty by reason of insanity, but Milwaukee County Judge Jeffrey Conen apparently was ...

Alabama: State Agencies Have Absolute Immunity in a Court of Law or Equity

The Supreme Court of Alabama held that state agencies can never be made a defendant in any court of law or equity. The ruling resulted after the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) filed a petition for writ of mandamus against the Montgomery Circuit Court for a dismissal of claims filed by Jean and Scott Clowers.

Jean Clowers was involved in a collision with Isabella Cowan while Cowan was driving an ADOC van for the work release center to which she was assigned. As a work release prisoner, Cowan was in ADOC’s custody at the time. Clowers claimed the ADOC was vicariously liable for the accident, and sued for negligence and wantonness. Scott Clowers joined the action for loss of consortium with his wife.

The ADOC filed a petition for writ of mandamus in May 2016, arguing it was entitled to sovereign immunity under Art. I § 14 of the state constitution. On August 25, 2017, the Alabama Supreme Court held a writ of mandamus is an extraordinary measure that is viable only when there is a clear legal right, the duty of a respondent is ignored, there is no other adequate remedy available and jurisdiction of the court is invoked ...

California: Governor Signs Bill to Block Expansion of For-profit Detention Centers

by Dale Chappell

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law in October 2017 that blocks the expansion of for-profit immigration detention facilities, demonstrating the state’s opposition to President Trump’s efforts to crack down on undocumented immigrants and increase deportations.

The Dignity Not Detention Act (SB 29) restricts new contracts between local government agencies and private companies that operate immigration detention facilities in California, blocks plans to expand existing facilities, and requires a 180-day notice and public hearings for future building permits. The law also requires private immigration detention centers to adhere to national standards for conditions, and requires the California Department of Justice to perform annual audits of such facilities.

“California should not be siding with companies that profit from the detention of asylum seekers,” said state Senator Ricardo Lara, the bill’s sponsor. There are four privately-run immigration centers in California. The GEO Group, which operates the Adelanto Detention Facility in San Bernardino County and the Mesa Verde Detention Facility in Bakersfield, is one of the largest contractors with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), having held $900 million in ICE contracts since 2013. CoreCivic, formerly CCA, runs the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, while the ...

Newspaper Investigation Reveals Significant Problem with Life Sentences in Arizona

by Christopher Zoukis

An investigation by the Arizona Republic has exposed a serious problem with life sentences imposed by state courts throughout Arizona since 1994. In the 22 years between January 1994 and January 2016, 248 out of 490 life sentences imposed included the possibility of parole after 25 years – but the Arizona legislature abolished parole in 1994.

This begs the question: How will those 248 prisoners be considered for parole when parole doesn’t exist?

In 1993, the sentence of “life with the chance of parole after 25 years” was eliminated by the Arizona legislature and replaced with “life with the chance of release after 25 years.” According to the Republic, the difference between those two phrases is significant.

Under the old law, prisoners were guaranteed a hearing before the parole board after serving 25 years. The board had the authority to order release or further imprisonment, depending on the prisoner’s situation. Under the new law there is no guaranteed hearing. Prisoners must instead file a petition with the Board of Executive Clemency, which can then recommend a pardon or sentence commutation. But only the governor, in his sole discretion, can grant such clemency applications.

It appears that ...

Ohio: $75,000 Settlement Reached after 60-Year-Old Woman Body Slammed by Jail Guard

by Christopher Zoukis

A federal lawsuit filed by an elderly woman who suffered injuries after being slammed to the floor by a jail guard has ended in a settlement, and the guard disciplined.

Marsha Pate-Strickland was detained in Ohio’s Montgomery County jail on September 8, 2015 when she was involved ...

Federal Lawsuit Filed Against Oklahoma Sheriffs – All of Them

by Derek Gilna

A federal lawsuit was filed in November 2017 against every sheriff in the state of Oklahoma, along with judges, court officials and the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association, challenging a scheme that turned unpaid court fees and fines into a collection “extortion” racket. Most of the people targeted by the scheme were poor criminal defendants who, as a result of their poverty, often ended up in jail due to their inability to pay. The suit seeks class-action status and the class members could number in the tens of thousands.

The complaint was filed in Tulsa, Oklahoma by seven plaintiffs including Ira Lee Wilkins, who pleaded guilty to a criminal charge in 2015 and failed to pay court costs. A bench warrant was issued; he was arrested and sent to state prison.

Wilkins and other people convicted of criminal offenses, his attorneys said, “are victims of an extortion scheme in which the defendants have conspired to extract as much money as possible ... through a pattern of illegal and shocking behavior.” Dan Smolen, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, added, “In the United States of America you can’t put people in jail because they’re too poor, and that’s what’s happening here ...

Dying Prisoner’s Complaint Alleged Claim for Failure to Treat Hepatitis C

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed the dismissal of a prisoner’s civil rights action that accused staff at Autry State Prison of denying him treatment for hepatitis C.

Georgia state prisoner Blair Mitchell, who was serving a life sentence, filed a pro se complaint on February 22, 2016 alleging prison officials were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. He said he had informed them of his hepatitis C diagnosis, but they failed to provide him “medication and/or treatment.”

Mitchell stated that due to “the lack of treatment[,] cirrhosis has begun.” He further claimed that medical staff refused to provide the “breakthrough” drug Harvoni – one of several new hepatitis C drugs that have shown to cure the disease in “96-99% of patients ... who had no prior treatment.” [See: PLN, April 2018, p.28; Dec. 2017, p.24; April 2014, p.20].

Because Mitchell sought in forma pauperis status, the district court screened the complaint. It dismissed his lawsuit upon a finding that he had three previous actions dismissed because they were frivolous, malicious or failed to state a claim, and that the imminent-danger exception did not apply because he “merely complains he is ...

Virginia Federal Court Holds Nation of Gods and Earth is a Religion

A federal district court has ordered the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) to remove the security threat group designation from the Nation of Gods and Earth (NGE), “recognize it as a religion, and afford it the rights and privileges enumerated in the Department’s operating procedure for Offender Religious Programs, including ...

Major Wage Ratio Gap Between Executives, Employees at Private Prisons

by Steve Horn

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings reviewed by Prison Legal News show a major gap between the pay of private prison employees and the executives of those companies. And, according to a new report by the non-profit group Public Citizen, those numbers may not reflect the whole reality when extremely low wages paid to immigrant detainees are taken into account.

Required to include wage ratio details under Section 953(b) of the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, SEC filings for private prison firms The GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) reveal their top executives are paid dozens of times more per year than the median pay of the companies’ employees.

With respect to GEO Group, CEO George Zoley made $9.6 million in total compensation in 2017 – a ratio of 271:1 compared to the median pay for rank-and-file workers. For CoreCivic, the ratio between the annual compensation of CEO Damon Hininger, who received a total of $2.37 million last year, and median employee wages was a more reasonable 62:1.

According to survey results published in February 2018 by Equilar, Inc., a firm that provides intelligence solutions and data for boards of ...

Former Michigan Prisoner Receives Over $817,000 for Wrongful Conviction

A Michigan man who was wrongfully convicted of rape has received $817,351 in compensation from the state. Quentin Carter was 16 when he was charged in September 1991 with raping a 10-year-old girl in Grand Rapids.

The girl’s mother waited ten days to report the incident to the police. By then no biological evidence existed, but the victim exhibited severe injuries from a beating. Her mother’s boyfriend, Aurelias Marshall, stated during question that he beat the girl with an extension cord to get her to identify her attackers. Marshall subsequently pleaded guilty to first-degree child abuse and was sentenced to prison.

The girl told police that three males, including Carter, dragged her off her porch and raped her. At trial, she testified that Carter held her down while others assaulted her, then he raped her too. A jury convicted Carter in February 1992 and he was sentenced to six to 20 years in prison; he served 17 because he refused to admit his guilt.

In 2014, the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office reopened a case involving the June 11, 1990 murder of Joel Battaglia, in which Marshall was a suspect. During the investigation, the victim in Carter’s case, who was ...

Oklahoma Lawmaker Introduces Bill to Lift Prison Smoking Ban

by Monte McCoin

The Enid News & Eagle reported on February 23, 2018 that Oklahoma State Representative Rick West had introduced a bill to dismantle a six-year ban on cigarette sales and smoking inside state prisons. The measure, which passed a House committee with a vote of 5-4, moved forward to the full House.

“It’s caused more problems and didn’t solve anything,” West said of the Department of Corrections’ smoking ban. “If the intent was that no smoking be allowed amongst the prisoners, that certainly didn’t happen. They’re smoking in there right now as we speak. What it did was create numerous, numerous problems within the system, and the biggest one is the black market that was created.”

“As a whole, most officers would be OK with allowing tobacco sales back into prisons,” added Jackie Switzer, executive director of Oklahoma Corrections Professionals. “When it was removed, all it did was create another black market item. It created a lot more work for officers having to search out and write up infractions for tobacco. [And] it created a lot more opportunity for, I guess, debts to be accrued inside the prisons between inmates.”

A state budget analysis ...

Phony New York Lawyer Defrauds Prisoners, Sent to Prison

by Ed Lyon

Antonia Barrone of Albany, New York posed as an attorney from September 2012 to April 2017. She went by various male aliases, including Mario Vrendenburg, Antonio Barrone, Mario Stacchini, Mario Helems and Mark Vredenburg, and primarily targeted prisoners seeking legal representation for parole denials.

She defrauded over 400 people in ten counties and received over $23,000 in fees doing business through the New York State Prisoner Assistance Center (aka NY Parole Aids) and Stacchini & Barrone, a fictional law firm operated from her home.

New York’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has been reviewing each of Barrone’s prisoner victims “on a case-by-case basis,” yet spokesman Pat Bailey said none of the prisoners represented by Barrone were granted parole. The number of parole denial appeals she filed was not disclosed.

Barrone was involved in a police chase on Interstate 787 in 2016, achieving speeds over 100 mph. Attempting to exit the highway, she hit another vehicle and a utility pole.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a civil suit against Barrone over her false representation that she was an attorney and her unauthorized practice of law. In August 2017, a judgment was entered against ...

Nebraska Sheriffs Profiting from Jail Phone Contracts

by Christopher Zoukis

The ACLU of Nebraska issued a report on November 30, 2017 detailing the cost of telephone calls made from county jails in the state, concluding that phone rates remain “unconscionably” expensive. Profits for some sheriffs are so high that the ACLU compared the practice to “for-profit debtors’ prisons” of the Victorian era.

According to, the ACLU’s report included a cartoon used by telecom firm Encartele to promote its jail phone services. The image showed a sheriff sitting in a pile of money – the kind of money that could be obtained by contracting with the company.

Encartele is one of three for-profit firms that provide phone services to jails in Nebraska. Protocall and Securus are the other two. The companies are making so much money on phone services that they can afford to kick back huge “commissions” to county sheriffs. In Douglas County, for example, the exorbitant fees charged for jail phone calls earned the county $617,062 in 2016. Lancaster County received $397,566.

The ACLU said a prisoner in Douglas County making four 15-minute calls per week would pay about $42 a month – a little less than $3 per call – though ...

North Dakota: Altered Pencil in Prison Results in Weapon Possession Conviction

The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the conviction of Arthur Lee Crissler on a charge of possessing a weapon in a correctional facility.

During a September 3, 2016 search of Crissler’s cellblock, a pencil wrapped in paper, thread and elastic was found concealed under the mattress on Crissler’s bunk. He admitted the object was his and was charged with possessing a weapon.

The applicable statute, N.D.C.C. § 12-44.1-21(5), states “[i]t is unlawful for an inmate in a correctional facility to willfully procure, make, or possess an object, including a shard made of any material or a weapon, firearm, ammunition, or explosive material, intended to be used for an assault on another person or to damage property.”

At trial, Burleigh County Detention Center guard Lucas Kuntz testified about the pencil, which was a “flex pencil” that is very flexible in its unaltered state and thus hard to use as a weapon. The pencil found under Crissler’s bunk “was wrapped in paper that had first been wetted and then, when in place, allowed to dry, which had the effect of increasing the rigidity of the pencil.”

The court noted that “The rigidity was ...

Pro Se Rhode Island Prisoner Wins First Amendment Settlement

by Derek Gilna

Edward McCable, a Rhode Island prisoner housed in the High Security Center (HSC) at the state’s Adult Correctional Institution, successfully sued the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RI DOC) for restricting his access to religious publications. Without the benefit of an attorney, McCable obtained a settlement on May 16, 2017 that allowed him to receive the publications while establishing a procedure for appealing the exclusion of reading materials that prison officials find objectionable.

As stated by McCable in his handwritten complaint, “This is a Section 1983 action ... alleging violation of [my] Constitutional Rights to receive publications and seeking injunctive relief and money damages....”

McCable described how prison staff banned 13 publications that were primarily directed at African American prisoners who were followers of Islam, which appeared to contradict the RI DOC’s own policy. According to policy, “A publication may not be rejected solely because its content is religious, philosophical, social, or sexual, or because its content is unpopular or repugnant.”

As McCable wrote in his complaint, according to the RI DOC’s policy on publications, “Incoming non-privileged mail is disapproved only to prevent interference with facility goals of security, order, discipline, rehabilitation, or [that] might facilitate ...

Wrongful Death Case Against New York Jail Settles for $101,500

by Derek Gilna

Lucky Lee Wilkins, Jr., who suffered from depression, committed suicide while in the custody of the Schenectady County jail in New York on May 28, 2014. His family filed suit alleging civil rights violations, and the case settled in July 2017 for $101,500.

Wilkins, who was 29, had told his family and friends that he “unsuccessfully sought help from medical staff on multiple occasions, but was denied,” according to the complaint. “Other inmates also reported that [he] was severely depressed prior to his death, [and] had threatened to commit suicide on multiple occasions, and was being denied medical treatment.”

Gail Helijas, who was appointed administrator of Wilkins’ estate, alleged the jail and Ellis Hospital were “deliberately indifferent” to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. She also accused the jail’s medical provider, Correctional Medical Care (CMC), as well as Ellis Hospital and staff members Emre Umar and Maria Carpio, of implementing unconstitutional policies and practices.

In addition, Helijas argued that “the actions of the Defendants ... represent a claim for conscious pain and suffering under the law of the state of New York ... [and] grossly so.”

Finally, the complaint stated that ...

U.S. Coast Guard Operating Inhumane Floating Prisons

by Christopher Zoukis

An eye-opening report from The New York Times has exposed the existence of multiple “floating Guantanamos” operated by the U.S. Coast Guard throughout the Pacific Ocean. Coast guard cutters on missions to interdict suspected drug smugglers in international waters have become de facto prisons for detainees. Some of the suspected smugglers have spent months chained to ship decks, awaiting transfer to the mainland for prosecution in American courts.

According to the Times, using the Coast Guard to interdict seaborne contraband headed to the United States is an age-old practice. Before the mid-1980s, however, it was restricted to U.S. territorial waters. With the passage of the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act of 1986, drug smuggling in international waters became a crime and interdictions expanded farther and farther out to sea.

Since the 2012 launching of Operation Martillo, or “hammer” in Spanish, the Coast Guard has detained more than 2,700 people in international waters on suspicion of smuggling cocaine to Central America. Once detained, the Coast Guard employs the fiction that the suspects are not under arrest, sometimes chains them to the deck exposed to the elements, feeds them near starvation rations and provides them buckets ...

Porn Reading Rooms in Iowa Prisons Placed on Legislative Hit List

A proposed law, Senate Study Bill 3035, would put an end to “pornography reading rooms” in Iowa prisons. The rooms have existed since a 1988 federal court ruling that held the Iowa DOC’s rules on pornography were unconstitutionally vague and overbroad.

“The current policy on these materials does not align with the department’s commitment to creating and maintaining a culture of rehabilitation for all incarcerated individuals,” said Cord Overton, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Corrections.

Currently, prisoners use designated rooms to read sexually explicit materials, stated Rebecca Bowker, executive officer at the Iowa State Penitentiary. “It’s not always the same room. It’s just an empty room – an empty classroom or empty counselor’s space.”

The proposed legislation would adopt a policy used by the federal Bureau of Prisons. It would not allow state funds to be appropriated for prison officials to distribute or make available commercially published information or material to a prisoner “when such information or material is sexually explicit or features nudity.”

Under the current law, Iowa Code 904.310A, the definition of “reading material” does not encompass “material depicting or describing the genitals, sex acts, masturbation, excretory functions, or sadomasochistic abuse which the ...

North Carolina Woman Attempts Bail Bond Scheme from Inside Jail

by Monte McCoin

On December 1, 2017, police in Gastonia, North Carolina filed charges against Crystal Dawn Massey, who was already incarcerated at the Gaston County jail, for her role in a fake bail bond scam she attempted to carry out while locked up.

Massey told other prisoners she could help them be released by calling her “uncle” at “Byrd Dog Bail Bonding.” Instead of a referral to local licensed bondsman Carl Byrd’s legitimate bonding business, however, Massey gave fellow prisoners a number that actually belonged to Hoyt Edward Woody, Jr., who had no affiliation with Byrd or his company.

Rodney Jeter’s jailed girlfriend took the bait.

Jeter called the number he’d been given, and agreed to meet with a man who said he would accept $750 to post the unnamed girlfriend’s $25,000 bond. The pair met at an ATM near the jail, but the machine did not work and money did not change hands.

When Jeter’s disappointed girlfriend reached out to the real Carl Byrd and told him about the incident, he contacted the Gaston County Sheriff’s Office.

“I’m very, very upset,” Byrd told the Gaston Gazette. “I don’t know how to express in words how ...

Washington Prisoner’s Negligence Suit Settles for $75,000

Washington State’s Spokane County Jail reached a $75,000 settlement in a lawsuit that alleged guards failed to protect a prisoner from being assaulted by another prisoner.

Justin T. Betts, 35, has a long history of mental illness and has been jailed more than a dozen times. Shortly after his ...

Justice Department Failing to Assess Prison Population Reduction, Clemency and Reentry Programs

by Christopher Zoukis

In a statement made to members of Congress on December 13, 2017, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported on the failure of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to properly implement recommendations intended to measure the success of incarceration reduction and reentry initiatives. The programs, recommended by the GAO over the last several years, are designed to reduce the federal prison population and lower recidivism rates through successful reentry preparation.

The prison population reduction and reentry programs are essential elements of overall criminal justice reform efforts at the federal level. But Diana Maurer, director of the GAO’s Homeland Security and Justice Office, said the failure to measure the performance of those programs inhibits their value.

Maurer told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that “knowing the outcomes of these efforts can help BOP [Bureau of Prisons] adjust its policies and procedures, and ultimately optimize their benefits.”

She highlighted specific failures with respect to the implementation of the DOJ’s Smart on Crime initiative and clemency initiative. Smart on Crime was intended to reduce the federal prison population through more nuanced prosecutorial decision-making and the elimination of unfair sentencing disparities. However, the DOJ has not ...

News in Brief

Alabama: A 33-year-old prisoner who had worked at the Koch Foods poultry plant for nearly five months while participating in a work release program was killed in an October 29, 2017 “industrial accident.” Frank Dwayne Ellington died shortly after he was caught in a machine during his late afternoon shift. Koch Foods, which touts itself as one of the largest poultry processors in the nation, stopped operations following the incident and canceled third shift for the evening. The cause of the accident was under investigation, according to a press release from the Alabama Department of Corrections.

California: The Fresno Bee published part of a September 4, 2017 letter from whistleblowing Avenal State prisoner Richard Sandoval, who claimed a guard badly injured a feral kitten by kicking it 20 feet in the air, breaking its leg and leaving it helpless. According to the newspaper, the kitten was taken to a veterinarian and was being cared for at the home of a female guard. Kristin Rickman, a representative for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said the group would be following up. “We’d like to find out what happened,” she said. “We’d like assurances that it won’t happen again ...


Federal Prison Handbook



Prisoner Education Guide side



Federal Prison Handbook




Prisoner Education Guide side