When a prisoner dies in Washington state, the question of who is to blame often goes unaddressed. Meet the families, and their lawyers, who want answers.
by Ciara O’Rourke, Seattle Met
Stephanie Deal wanted her mom to bail her out. She wanted to go home. To see her daughter, Ella. “It’s only, like, $40,” she pleaded over the phone from the Cowlitz County Jail.
The 29-year-old had been arrested in Longview, Washington, 100 miles south of Seattle, Saturday, August 3, 2013, on a charge of driving with a suspended license. But her mother, Jule Crowell, was hopeful. Finally, Crowell thought, Stephanie had hit rock bottom. Maybe she’d give up heroin. There was cash saved up for rehab when she was released. Ella, age six, could continue to live with Crowell and her husband for now. Things would get better.
And so, certain her tough love was the wisest choice, Jule Crowell told her daughter no. She would not bail her out.
The decision would haunt Crowell for years.
Early in the morning, a week after Stephanie’s arrest, the phone rang again. Crowell rose from her bed and hurried to the kitchen. She needed to go to the hospital, the ...
by Christopher Zoukis
When criminal defendants are found mentally incompetent to stand trial, a judge typically orders their transfer to a psychiatric hospital for treatment to restore competency. But many states struggle with a shortage of psychiatric beds, even as the number of mentally incompetent defendants has grown. So the mentally ill often remain in jail, which exacerbates their mental health conditions.
Maryland is experiencing a shortage of psychiatric treatment beds – something that Paul DeWolfe, the state’s chief public defender, called a “long-standing problem” that has reached crisis proportions. The Maryland-based Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) counted a ten percent drop in psychiatric beds in the state between 2010 and 2016, which mirrors a 17 percent decline nationwide – reducing the number of available beds in the U.S. on a per capita basis to a new low.
In Maryland, TAC reported the loss of 108 psychiatric beds was met with a 250 percent increase in pretrial competency hearings. What has followed, the advocacy group said, is like a game of “musical chairs” – shuffling one patient out of the way long enough for a pretrial competency evaluation to be completed, then returning that defendant to jail so the original ...
by Paul Wright
Deaths in jails are all too common in the United States, especially from medical neglect and untreated injuries. They are also usually ignored, as jails have even less oversight than state or federal prisons. Systemic patterns of jail deaths are nothing new, but the occasional media inquiry into them is.
This month’s cover story by the Seattle Met is a good example of what happens in county lockups in every state. Reports like this expose the dramatic need for litigation at the local level to help ensure minimal standards of medical care for jail detainees given the total lack of political will and interest by sheriffs and county officials. Kudos to the Seattle Met for a great investigative piece and for allowing us to reprint it.
We are gearing up for a busy summer here at the Human Rights Defense Center, with an active litigation docket, numerous journalism projects and a record number of interns preparing to spend the summer working on prisoner rights-related issues. Our latest monthly publication, Criminal Legal News, continues to grow and just published its sixth issue with a circulation of almost 1,000 subscribers. If you are interested in policing, sentencing issues ...
by Steve Horn
Prison Legal News has compiled the results of its last reader survey and this summary will report on the more compelling findings, which we will use to inform editorial decisions in forthcoming issues of the magazine. We extend our gratitude to Heidi Sadri, a student worker employed by PLN, for crunching the numbers and tallying the results of the survey – a lengthy and arduous task.
A total of 11,294 surveys were distributed to 8,777 prisoners and 2,517 non-prisoners. We received 527 responses, for a response rate of 4.67 percent. The majority of people who responded (57 percent) reported they had a high school or GED-level education, while over 30 percent indicated they had a college degree.
The vast majority of respondents were held in state prisons – 84 percent – with around 8.4 percent in federal prisons and 5.5 percent in local jails.
The most compelling findings of the 37-question survey centered around questions about a prospective new monthly magazine which is now being published by the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), PLN’s parent organization – Criminal Legal News (CLN), which began publishing in December 2017.
Nearly 84 percent of ...
Distilleries? Homeless shelters? Museums? There are lots of creative ideas for repurposing old lockups. But finding one that’s good for the economy – and wins approval – isn’t easy.
by Daniel C. Vock, Governing.com
From the moment he saw Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, Pete Waddington wanted to turn the shuttered prison deep in the mountains of Eastern Tennessee into a tourist destination.
It hasn’t been easy.
The effort started four years ago when Waddington, a businessman from Chattanooga, rode his motorcycle on a wooded route nicknamed the Devil’s Triangle. The path took him through dense forest to a clearing where several flagpoles stood next to a closed prison gate. The prison, Waddington later learned, was considered so remote, the chances of escape so daunting, the prisoners’ crimes so serious, that state officials called Brushy Mountain “the end of the line.”
The maximum-security prison, which opened in 1896, initially had its prisoners mining coal in the nearby mountains. Later, after Tennessee lawmakers banned that practice, the prisoners quarried limestone out of those same mountains for a new prison building named The Castle.
The end of the line for the state penitentiary itself came in 2009. That’s when the state ...
by Monte McCoin
A $1 million lawsuit filed by the widow of a man who died at the city jail in Kingsport, Tennessee following a 2015 DUI arrest settled on February 28, 2017 for just $6,000.
Judy Honaker alleged that the City of Kingsport and two jailers, Monica Safis ...
by Panagioti Tsolkas
When Wayland Coleman, a prisoner at MCI-Norfolk in Massachusetts, stepped out of the shower last year he noticed something strange. It was as if the towel he used to dry himself was, in his words, “used to wipe dirt off the floor.”
“I don’t know exactly what is in this water, but I do know that it is in my hair, eyes, nose, and skin,” Coleman wrote in a letter to the Boston Globe. “I ingest it, and with each swallow, I fear for my long-term health.”
He wasn’t alone. In December 2016, the Norfolk Inmate Council, composed of prisoners tasked with representing the facility’s incarcerated population, conducted a survey on health-related problems. They presented a report to the administration indicating that almost two-thirds of the prisoners surveyed said they suffered from rashes and other skin ailments. Around half noted intestinal issues.
The council’s report also cited problems with water sampling results at the prison, which were collected from the source rather than the tap, possibly missing major dangers including lead and other sediment from corroded pipes. The water, they said, was not only dark in color but also clogs filters in the communal ...
by David M. Reutter
Three Kentucky River Regional Jail guards have been sentenced to federal prison terms for beating prisoners in two separate incidents – including one where a prisoner died.
In 2013, guards Damon Wayne Hickman and William C. Howell entered the cell of Larry Trent, 54, to remove a mattress. As they opened the door, Trent ran from the cell. Howell used a stun gun to subdue him, and Trent was prone on the floor when Hickman kicked him in the ribs, prosecutors said.
Trent was dragged back to his cell and the beating continued. “Both deputies, without justification, punched, kicked and stomped on Trent,” the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement. “Witnesses further testified that, before closing the cell door, Howell stepped into Trent’s cell and kicked Trent in the head while Trent was on the floor and posing no threat. After the assault, Hickman and Howell had other inmates clean up Trent’s blood from the floor and walls outside of his cell.”
Trent, who was awaiting trial on a DUI charge, died from internal bleeding caused by a displaced pelvic fracture and blunt force trauma to his head, torso and extremities ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Prisoners in most jurisdictions in the United States are required to work, often for little or no pay. Yet this is neither illegal nor unconstitutional. Pretrial detainees who have not been convicted of a crime cannot be forced to work. But the federal Fair Labor Standards Act does not apply to convicted prisoners, who are not considered employees – because the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”
Most jurisdictions that compel prisoner labor are not trying to profit from it, and are instead content simply to count the labor costs saved. Florida’s Department of Corrections, for example, counted 6.6 million hours of prisoner labor on community projects in 2016 that saved taxpayers an estimated $59 million. Governor Rick Scott was elected in 2010 with a promise to save another $1 billion by using prisoners to provide services – including growing their own food.
But in other cases prisoners are employed at wages far below market rates to provide goods and services to other government agencies and even private companies. UNICOR, the trade name of Federal ...
by Derek Gilna
Although video calls – the term PLN uses to describe video visits, which are far removed from actual visitation – are available at many county jails and some prisons, usually for a fee, more and more facilities are considering using them to replace in-person visits. But prisoners’ family members, advocacy groups and even some public officials are pushing back against the practice. [See: PLN, March 2018, p.46; April 2017, p.22; March 2015, p.1].
An August 2017 report by the Vera Institute of Justice, “Closing the Distance,” noted that “staying connected to loved ones outside of prison is important to the well-being and success of incarcerated people in leading safe and crime-free lives after release.”
The report also found the use of video calling correlated to an increased number of in-person visits for those prisoners whose families used it – meaning the technology may actually help “strengthen people’s relationships to those on the outside.”
Research has long shown that increased contact between prisoners and their family members, particularly through visitation, results in better post-release outcomes and thus lower recidivism rates. [See: PLN, April 2014, p.24].
But because most video calling systems ...
On April 24, 2018, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), PLN’s parent non-profit organization, filed suit in federal court against Mecklenburg County Sheriff Irwin Carmichael and other employees of the sheriff’s office, alleging unlawful censorship of HRDC’s publications sent to prisoners at the Mecklenburg County Jail in North Carolina.
HRDC mailed copies of its monthly publications, Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News, to prisoners at the jail along with legal books and educational materials. However, according to the complaint, the sheriff’s “policies and practices prohibit delivery of mail from [HRDC], fail to provide notice of and an opportunity to challenge each instance of censorship, and deny [HRDC] equal protection under the law as required under the United States Constitution.”
The Mecklenburg County Jail’s mail policy, which is posted on the sheriff’s website, includes a list of banned publications that prisoners are not allowed to receive. That list includes Prison Legal News. HRDC alleges that this blanket ban on its publication violates the First Amendment.
According to the complaint, “Since May 2016, Defendants have censored the following mailed materials from HRDC: (1) individually addressed issues of the monthly journal Prison Legal News; (2) individually addressed sample issues of Prison ...
by Steve Horn
On April 4, 2018, Prison Legal News settled a lawsuit over unconstitutional mail policies at a jail in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The complaint centered around the censorship of 147 pieces of mail sent to prisoners at the Knox County jail between November 2014 and when the suit was ...
by Monte McCoin
On April 30, 2018, Pennsylvania prisoner Jamal Washington filed a lawsuit to prevent a ban on leather Timberland boots at all state prisons. His suit seeks an injunction because, he contends, the boots are needed for warmth during the winter months.
“Most of the DOC’s facilities are situated in mountainous regions, which calls for proper footwear to combat the harsh winter elements,” he stated in his complaint.
Pennsylvania prison officials announced the ban in February 2018 in response to the death of SCI-Somerset Sgt. Mark J. Baserman, 60. Baserman died 11 days after he was attacked by prisoner Paul Jawon Kendrick, 23, who was wearing heavy boots when he kicked the guard multiple times in the head.
According to news reports, Kendrick lashed out at Baserman after the guard confiscated a towel that Kendrick had used to block the view of his bunk. After Baserman fell to the ground following eight to 10 punches to the head, Kendrick began kicking him. Another guard who tried to assist Baserman also was injured during the incident.
Pennsylvania DOC officials said Baserman was the first state prison guard to be killed by a prisoner in nearly 40 years. The ...
by David M. Reutter
After two North Carolina prisoners died in county jails, lawsuits filed by their families resulted in settlements. Under state law, the details of those agreements should have been public record; in fact, in the absence of accepted standards for jail health care or strong regulatory oversight, such information may provide the best measure of the quality of medical care provided to prisoners held in county jails.
Yet state court judges sealed the settlements in both cases.
North Carolina’s public records law allows an exception if a court finds “the presumption of openness is overcome by an overriding interest” that “cannot be protected by any measure short of sealing the settlement.” Yet Jonathan Jones with the North Carolina Open Government Coalition and Sunshine Center at Elon University called the decision to seal the settlements in the jail death cases “incredibly disappointing.”
“We’re talking about spending taxpayer dollars on claims of wrongdoing by the government, and often these are settled without an admission of guilt,” he said. “But even though there’s no admission of guilt or responsibility, there’s a transfer of funds, and citizens need to know whether or not their government bodies are being ...
by Matt Clarke
In August 2017, the MacArthur Justice Center (MJC) in St. Louis filed a federal civil rights suit against the Missouri Department of Corrections and its Division of Probation and Parole (Parole Board). At issue were alleged violations of the constitutional rights of parolees facing revocation hearings, which often resulted in their reincarceration.
Missouri has 15,000 people on parole, of whom 3,000 to 7,000 face violations and revocation hearings annually. Despite that large number of revocations, the suit notes, the Parole Board held just 250 revocation hearings in the three years between March 2014 and March 2017. MJC Director Mae Quinn called the situation in Missouri “horrific.”
“Here we are in the 21st century running an assembly-line parole violation system that just pushes people back into our prisons without any real legal protections,” she said. “And yet such practices were rendered unconstitutional 50 years ago.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has considered several cases involving parole revocation hearings, ordering states to establish procedures to protect the due process rights of parolees.
There must be both a preliminary hearing and a final hearing, at which evidence of the violation is presented. Parolees may ...
by Dale Chappell
“Chicken-winging,” it’s called – when guards twist a prisoner’s arms behind his back and wrench them upward, inflicting extreme pain. Without the upward yank, the technique is an acceptable means of physical control and “you’ll get compliance a lot quicker,” according to former U.S ...
Solitary: The Inside Story of Supermax Isolation and How We Can Abolish It, by Dr. Terry Allen Kupers (University of California Press, September 2017). 304 pages, $29.95 hardcover
Book review by Christopher Zoukis
There are nations around the world that routinely torture their own citizens. Government actors in those oppressive regimes use inhumane practices to punish, to crush resistance and to retain control. The United States, that great beacon of freedom and democracy – the shining city on the hill – is one of those nations. Unbeknownst to most members of the public, tens of thousands of Americans are tortured at the hands of government authorities every year.
The people subject to this regular practice, described as “barbaric” by the U.S. Supreme Court over a century ago, have been taken by corrections officials in a most commonplace way – call it an un-extraordinary rendition – to a place that is essentially invisible to the public. That place is known by various names – control unit, SHU, SMU, the hole – and the cruel and sadly usual practice is called solitary confinement.
Also referred to as segregation, ad seg or isolation, it is used in virtually every prison and ...
by Christopher Zoukis
California county jails are facing lawsuits and court-imposed fines over their handling of detainees who have been determined incompetent to stand trial due to mental illness.
In Ventura County, the families of mentally ill detainees have filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court over the denial of proper treatment and delays in transporting detainees to state mental hospitals. The plaintiffs claim that mentally ill defendants who have been found incompetent to stand trial routinely wait for months to receive treatment at a hospital. During that time they are often housed in isolation and denied commissary privileges, visits and phone calls. Sometimes, the suit alleges, mentally ill detainees are literally housed in rubber-lined rooms.
The complaint, which names the California Department of State Hospitals (DSH), Patton State Hospital, MHM Services of California, Inc. and California Forensic Medical Group, Inc. as defendants, alleges that at least 36 detainees spent an average of 131 days in Ventura County jails waiting for transport and treatment.
“These individuals often end up spending more time in jail prior to adjudication than they would if they had pleaded guilty,” attorney Brian Vogel wrote in the suit. “More importantly, the delays have caused individuals ...
by Christopher Zoukis
In July 2017, the family of a man who killed himself while in custody at the Rikers Island jail complex in New York City agreed to settle their wrongful death suit for $380,000.
Aris Hiraldo, a 24-year-old father of three, committed suicide by hanging himself with ...
According to the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC), state prisoner Edward Ray Gilley, Jr., 54, died on November 5, 2016 at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, a facility owned and operated by CoreCivic – previously known as Corrections Corporation of America.
In response to a public records request filed by Prison Legal News, on February 13, 2018 the TDOC’s director of communication, Neysa Taylor, reported that Gilley’s death was due to “natural causes.”
Unless overdosing on meth is “natural,” however, that cause of death was incorrect – though it evidently was not scrutinized or questioned by TDOC officials.
A previous news report by WSMV Channel 4 in Nashville indicated that Gilley had died of an overdose, though he wasn’t mentioned by name in the report. PLN obtained a copy of the autopsy results from the medical examiner’s office, which concluded that Gilley’s death was caused by “toxic effects of methamphetamine complicating hypertensive cardiovascular disease.” The report noted that a toxicology screen was “significant for methamphetamine” at almost four times the reporting threshold, and the cause of death was ruled accidental – as in an accidental overdose.
It was not listed as due to natural causes.
Yet “natural ...
A Tennessee grand jury returned an indictment on September 5, 2017 that charged a former deputy with the Cheatham County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) with using a stun gun to assault a pre-trial detainee at the county jail.
Jordan E. Norris, 19, was arrested in November 2016 on drug and weapons possession charges. On November 5, he apparently suffered a mental health episode and began banging his head against the door of his holding cell. He was removed from the cell and placed in a restraint chair, but was able to free one arm. That’s when CCSO Deputy Mark Bryant, 39, used a Taser on Norris – at least four times for a total of 50 seconds, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI).
“I’ll keep on doing that until I run out of batteries,” Bryant said during the incident, which was captured on surveillance video.
District Attorney General Ray Crouch turned the video over to TBI agents, whose report prompted him to convene a grand jury that returned the indictment. It charged Bryant with four counts of aggravated assault and one count of official misconduct.
Sheriff Mike Breedlove initially defended the actions of Bryant and two other deputies ...
by Gregory Dober
In 1918, countries worldwide were hit with one of the worst influenza outbreaks in modern time. Experts believe that the pandemic of the Spanish flu originated and spread through overcrowded WWI army camps, then was transported into surrounding civilian communities. That allowed the disease to rapidly spread and, more importantly, to mutate into a more virulent killer strain. It is estimated that 20 to 50 million people died, including around 675,000 in the United States. What was unusual about this strain of the flu was that it afflicted and killed many healthy adults between the ages of 19 and 49.
Fast-forward a century to 2018 and there is a similar situation brewing in U.S. prisons and jails, just not with the same scope or severity – yet. The demographics of incarceration indicate that most prisoners are between the ages of 19 and 49, and are being held in overcrowded conditions with inadequate medical care.
The 2017-2018 flu season was particularly bad, with a virulent influenza strain. Up to 4,000 people died each week in the U.S. due to the flu. “The levels of influenza-like illnesses being reported now are as high as the ...
by Christopher Zoukis and Matt Clarke
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit in superior court against The GEO Group in September 2017, alleging the private prison contractor had violated the state’s minimum wage laws by paying immigrant detainees $1 per day to perform work at the company’s Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma.
NWDC houses up to 1,575 immigrant detainees until the resolution of their deportation cases; GEO has operated the facility under a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since 2005. The lawsuit demands that GEO pay the state minimum wage to detainee workers and divest any ill-gotten gains.
According to Ferguson’s suit, the company uses a “voluntary” work program at the facility that “rewards” detainee for their labor at a rate of $1 per day. In some cases, snacks and food are provided in exchange for work. ICE’s most recent National Detention Standards, released in 2011, require that detainees be paid at least $1 per day if they perform work at detention facilities. Ferguson argues that GEO Group must pay such workers the state’s minimum wage, which is currently $11 per hour.
“A multi-billion dollar corporation is trying to get away with paying ...
On May 10, 2018, drumbeats echoed and faux “blood” flowed through the parking lot at the Nashville, Tennessee headquarters of CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), as activists staged dramatic street theater to represent the sorrow, suffering and deaths of prisoners at the hands of the for-profit prison operator.
“Over the past decade, this protest, outside of CCA’s shareholders meeting, has become an annual event,” said Jane Hussain, an organizer with the Nashville Peace and Justice Center. “But this year there was a mood of increased desperation and fury over the continued growth and increasing injustices of America’s incarceration industry.”
The vocal crowd of demonstrators consisted of representatives from the Nashville Peace and Justice Center, Mercy Junction, Women of Faith Collective, Short Mountain community, Appalachia Antifa Airborne Division, Nashville Antifa, Nashville Anarchist Black Cross, Face to Face Knox, No Exceptions Prison Collective, and several other groups and individuals. The protesters erected a shrine as well as dozens of crosses, banners and cardboard tombstones to commemorate the names of people who have died in CoreCivic’s custody. Two former prisoners, “Chris H.” and the poet James Floyd, spoke to the crowd despite a sudden drenching downpour.
After a small ...
by Christopher Zoukis
A class-action lawsuit brought by disabled prisoners held at the Shasta County Jail in California has settled, subject to judicial approval.
The case was originally filed by Everett Joseph Jewett, a disabled detainee. In his April 2, 2014 complaint, Jewett alleged the jail was housing prisoners with disabilities in medical units where they were routinely denied services available to non-disabled prisoners. According to the lawsuit, disabled detainees were denied access to educational and religious services, and only allowed out of their cells one hour a day.
Jewett also claimed the jail failed to provide accommodations required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Specifically, prisoners with disabilities were held in cells without handrails so they could safely use the toilet, and the showers lacked safety devices. Some detainees were reportedly held in locked-down, noncompliant cells for over a year.
The Seattle Times reported the August 2017 settlement will require the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office to improve conditions for disabled and mobility-challenged prisoners. Those improvements include the removal of physical barriers for detainees who have difficulty walking; the jail will also hire an outside expert to ensure compliance with accessibility laws.
The settlement covered the class-wide injunctive relief portions ...
On August 29, 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held “it may be reasonable for an incarcerated individual who is told she must resurface past sexual trauma to overcome them to rely on these assurances, and to view associated feelings of emotional distress as normal, contractive responses incidental to the healing process.” In its ruling, the appellate court found it was error to deny a request to amend a complaint to allege the plaintiff was not aware she had been “injured by the therapy program until sometime after she stopped participating in the sessions.”
Before the Ninth Circuit was the appeal of Alexandria Gregg, who claimed she developed a psychological disorder years after she underwent sexual shame therapy sessions at Hawaii’s Kauai Community Correctional Center (KCCC) between March and November 2011. [See: PLN, Jan. 2017, p.40]. The complaint alleged Gregg participated in the Life Time Stand (LTS) program, which was run by KCCC Warden Neal Wagatsuma. The program purported to provide “therapy, counseling, and mental health treatment.”
According to Gregg’s complaint, LTS sessions involved “public sexual shaming.” Prisoners were forced to stand at a lectern and speak about their sexual histories before large groups ...
by Matt Clarke
The State of Hawaii and a former prison guard have each agreed to pay $50,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a female prisoner who was sexually assaulted.
Stormy Rae Smith was serving a five-year sentence at the Women’s Community Correctional Center in Honolulu for car ...
by Christopher Zoukis
The election of pro-business and law-and-order candidate Donald Trump to the presidency has been a boon to companies that operate for-profit prisons and immigration detention centers. So perhaps now is a good time to ask a question that has seen surprisingly little attention: Who is in private prisons, in terms of both detainees and staff members?
In a December 2017 study published by the International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice, sociology professor Brett C. Burkhardt, Ph.D., provided answers to this seemingly simple question. Burkhardt, with Oregon State University’s School of Public Policy, analyzed data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) to provide a demographic breakdown of both prisoners and employees in the private prison industry, which he then compared to their counterparts at government-operated facilities.
The most startling of Burkhardt’s findings concern who is employed in for-profit prisons. According to the BJS data, private prisons employ guards that are disproportionately female and black in comparison with state and federal prisons. Specifically, Burkhardt found that women comprise nearly half the staff in privately-operated prisons, compared to about 25 percent in government facilities. Blacks make up about 40 percent of private prison workers but only 22 ...
by Ed Lyon
The City of Adelanto in San Bernardino County, California owns a detention center – not a prison – according to Pablo Paez, a spokesman for the GEO Group, a private prison firm. “The ICE Processing Centers operated by our company are very different than local jails and prison facilities and we strongly reject that [prison] characterization,” he said.
GEO Group operates the facility for the city, which in turn is paid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house detainees waiting for asylum and deportation hearings – proceedings that can drag out for years.
GEO receives up to $112 per day per detainee, and described Adelanto as a “state-of-the-art, culturally responsive residential center” with “artificial soccer fields, flat-screen televisions and modern classrooms with up-to-date technology.” The 409,000 square foot “not a prison” is surrounded by barbed wire fences.
Adelanto also offers “around the clock medical care,” according to GEO.
But in April 2015, Sergio Alonso Lopez died after being taken to the infirmary when he began vomiting blood. The following month, Vicente Caceres-Maradiaga died en route to a hospital from “acute coronary syndrome.” On December 23, 2015, Jose Azurdia-Hernandez had a fatal ...
by Dale Chappell
When criminal defense attorney William Kroger visited his clients in California prisons, he noticed that just a few months behind bars seemed to whip many of them into shape. Because the state had removed all weightlifting equipment from its prisons over 20 years earlier, Kroger wondered: How were they getting those impressive results? So he enlisted personal trainer Trey Teufel to find out.
Commitment and ingenuity, Teufel discovered, helped prisoners achieve “total body fitness.”
“By wrapping up 50 or so magazines in bed sheets they created dumbbells that varied from 35 to 50 pounds,” he said. “They would also do pushups with anther cell mate on their back to make them much more difficult.”
Learning from the prisoners, Kroger and Teufel wrote the book Felon Fitness: How to Get a Hard Body Without Doing Hard Time to help those not in prison get into shape. The “back to basics, kick your ass” workout may help with America’s obesity epidemic, Teufel said.
Some former prisoners, too, are taking what they learned during rec time and turning it into a legitimate livelihood.
After serving a seven-year sentence in New York state prisons on charges related to ...
A $275,000 settlement was reached in a lawsuit over the March 5, 2015 suicide of a pretrial detainee at Ohio’s Fairfield County Jail. It was the second settlement related to a suicide at the facility since 2009.
Jesse Whitlatch, 32, was arrested on charges of breaking and entering and ...
by Derek Gilna
In September 2017, Derek Connor, incarcerated at the Placer County jail in Auburn, California, filed a federal lawsuit against the county and numerous deputies and jail employees over an unprovoked beating and other civil rights violations. The complaint, filed in the Eastern District of California, claimed that ...
by Christopher Zoukis
A January 2018 report from Pew Charitable Trusts indicated that the number of U.S. residents with a felony record rose sharply in every state between 1980 and 2010. The report analyzed data from a University of Georgia study published in September 2017, which showed that several states have seen a double-digit increase in the percentage of people with a felony record during that 30-year period. As of 2010, around 19 million Americans had been convicted of a felony.
In Georgia, the state with the largest increase, four percent of adults were felons in 1980. Three decades later, a full 15 percent of the state’s population had felony records. Florida, Indiana, Louisiana and Texas all had felony conviction rates above 10 percent in 2010. Across the country, every state has seen a significant increase in the percentage of residents with felony records.
Fordham University law professor and criminal justice expert John Pfaff called the study “incredibly important.” The results exposed a significant flaw in criminal justice reform efforts: While states have been working to reduce their prison populations, there has been less of an effort to deal with the collateral consequences of felony convictions.
“Georgia has ...
by Dale Chappell
LaPorte County, Indiana has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by a former prisoner who claimed county jailers used excessive force against him.
The suit, filed by Marcin Kulbacki, alleged that guards at the LaPorte County jail tased him and otherwise used excessive force, causing head and ...
by Derek Gilna
The family of Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) prisoner Marques Davis filed suit in federal district court in October 2017, alleging that officials at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility and the prison’s for-profit medical care provider, Corizon Health, failed to treat his fatal brain infection.
Davis died on April 13, 2017 when, after months of unsuccessfully seeking treatment from Corizon employees, he began to exhibit bizarre behavior. Earlier he had told the prison’s medical staff, “It feels like something is eating my brain.”
According to the Denver Post, shortly before Davis’ death, “An MRI done at the facility showed widespread fungal infection throughout his brain. A CT scan conducted later at a hospital revealed it was so swollen that the upper part of Davis’s brain was forced down to the lower part.”
The lawsuit claims that Corizon’s inattention to Davis’ symptoms caused his “staggeringly slow, physically and mentally excruciating death.” It accuses prison officials, Corizon, and three doctors and 11 nurses of negligence and federal civil rights violations.
Prison Legal News has reported dozens of lawsuits and millions of dollars in damages paid by Corizon Health in cases across the country, mostly related to failure ...
by Matt Clarke
On September 12, 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a federal district court’s denial of a defendant’s motion to seal all documents related to the lower sentence he received because he informed on a drug cartel.
John Doe is the pseudonym of a defendant who pleaded guilty to smuggling meth into the United States and received a five-level downward departure when he was sentenced in exchange for providing information about a drug cartel to federal prosecutors. According to a motion for downward departure filed by the government pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 5K1.1, Doe supplied the names, addresses, phone numbers and physical descriptions of cartel members and informed the government of the presence of cartel members in court during one of his appearances, detailing their roles in the drug smuggling operation.
The motion described Doe’s information as generally reliable and accurate. It led to the arrest of at least one other cartel member; the motion also stated that, after Doe’s arrest, a cartel member told him, “Don’t play dirty with us because we know where your family is.”
Based upon that threat, the government filed a motion to seal the downward ...
by Monte McCoin
The Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) announced on March 17, 2018 that phone calls from state prisons would be less expensive for prisoners and their families, effective immediately.
“The reduced rate will make services even more accessible and affordable for inmates’ families and loved ones,” Commissioner Pelicia E. Hall declared. “Family members will be able to stay in touch with their loved ones without worrying about the cost. We realize that family contact is very important for rehabilitation.”
The cost for calls made by prisoners dropped from $.22 per minute to $.11 per minute, and associated fees were eliminated or reduced. The rate change applies to all state-run facilities and will soon be the same at the state’s privately-operated prisons. The MDOC’s new agreement with Global Tel*Link (GTL) established rates that align with the per-minute cap the Federal Communications Commission set last year for debit and prepaid prison phone calls – even though those rates never went into effect, as they were successfully challenged in court by GTL and other phone service providers and corrections agencies. [See: PLN, July 2017, p.52].
The MDOC uses “commission” kickbacks from phone revenues and prisoners’ commissary purchases ...
by Christopher Zoukis
A federal lawsuit alleging various constitutional and state law violations related to the beating of a jail detainee in Euclid City, Ohio settled in October 2017 for $70,000.
On January 14, 2015, Lucille Dumas was arrested in connection with a traffic stop. As she was being ...
by Ed Lyon
California is getting serious about reversing its long history of mass incarceration. From a 2008 state supreme court ruling that abolished parole denials based on the seriousness and nature of the offense to a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision ordering California to reduce its prison population, the pendulum is slowly swinging toward a more balanced justice system.
Under Governor Jerry Brown, a “realignment” policy has been implemented which diverts certain state prisoners to county jails and supervised release programs. Proposition 47, passed by voters in 2014, reduced penalties for certain crimes – notably theft and drug offenses. [See: PLN, Sept. 2016, p.42]. Proposition 57, enacted in 2016, increases the number of prisoners eligible for parole [see: PLN, Jan. 2017, p.12], and in April 2017 state officials announced new guidelines to implement provisions of that ballot initiative.
One example of Proposition 57 in action is Kao Saelee, who was 17 when he participated in a gang-related shooting that killed one child and injured two others. He served 10 years of a life term and was recently recommended for parole.
“It used to be, you could ask a life term inmate if they had ever known ...
by Derek Gilna
The Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC) and its contracted private medical care provider, Corizon Health, were held in contempt of consent orders entered in 1984 and 2014 in a class-action suit. The original November 1, 1984 order required prison officials to adopt a special dietary program for medically infirm prisoners, create 24-hour emergency medical care, hire a full-time physician, provide a properly staffed medical delivery system and establish a psychiatric care program. See: Balla v. Idaho State Board of Correction, 595 F.Supp. 1558 (D. Idaho 1984).
In the decades following the original consent order, numerous court hearings were held as court-appointed monitors and the IDOC clashed over the execution of the order and its progeny. Due to those conflicts, starting in 2011 the federal district court appointed a special master to determine whether there was substantial non-compliance by Idaho prison officials.
As previously reported in Prison Legal News, the special master found the IDOC and Corizon were not in compliance, and the parties agreed to institute a mediation process to avoid the time and expense of a trial in the case. In 2014, “The parties crafted the Modified Compliance Plans (collectively, ‘MCP’) in and after the ...
by Ed Lyon
A tide of complaints has surfaced around Florida-based Trinity Services Group, one of the largest food service providers to correctional facilities in the nation. At issue is the provision of adequate, nutritious and healthy meals, since one study has found prisoners are six times more likely to contract a food-borne illness than non-prisoners. But prison safety is also a factor, considering that prisoners sometimes riot or protest due to poor food.
For example, describing their watered-down meals as “soupy,” hundreds of Michigan prisoners at the Kinross Correctional Facility staged a hunger strike in March 2016 to protest the substandard food served by Trinity. Other strikes followed the next month, involving prisoners at the G. Cotton Correctional Facility and the Chippewa Correctional Facility. Another on May 24, 2016 involved over 700 prisoners at the Marquette Branch Prison.
The protests failed to improve Trinity’s food service, however. A riot broke out at the Kinross prison in September 2016, in which poor food was a factor. Late in 2017, officials found maggots in three separate incidents at the Cotton facility, where prisoners also complained about “crunchy dirt” in potatoes. [See: PLN, Feb. 2017, p.48].
After switching in 2015 from Aramark ...
by Ed Lyon
On December 7, 2017, Ryan Partridge, a mentally ill prisoner, sued the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office and other county employees, claiming they failed to provide him with adequate mental health care and abused him. The 31-year-old, who suffers from psychosis, eventually gouged out his own eyes; in response, he said jail staff beat him into submission. That incident represented a culmination of the jail’s failure to protect Partridge from himself.
Partridge is a Boulder, Colorado native. Extremely intelligent, he left high school early, earned a G.E.D. and began taking college classes. However, in 2014, his parents noticed that he was exhibiting signs of mental illness. He told his mother he was “losing it.” His parents had him committed for a 72-hour observation once when he became paranoid, verging on psychotic. They called police several times when his psychoses grew increasingly violent and he soon became a well-known prisoner at the county jail, circulating in and out on charges of loitering, trespassing and mischief.
Jailed for a misdemeanor probation violation in February 2016, jail staff documented a marked deterioration in Partridge’s mental state. He said he wanted to remove his eyes and struck his head ...
In two recent settlements, corrections officials were forced to pay for their failure to honor the chosen gender identity of transgender prisoners and where they were housed. But in a third case, a court’s refusal to second-guess a housing decision by prison staff led to a transgender prisoner being assaulted ...
On January 17, 2018, a Texas state prisoner who was participating in the Administrative Segregation Transition Program (ASTP) at the Ramsey Unit murdered his cellmate. It was the first prisoner-on-prisoner homicide in Texas this year.
Alfred Brosig, 48, who was serving a capital life sentence for a 2002 murder, told a guard he had strangled his cellmate with an electrical cord. Prison staff found Kenneth Johnson, 57, dead in the cell with a radio cord wrapped around his neck, according to ASTP prisoner Jason Renard.
As Brosig was being escorted out of the cellblock, he blew “farewell kisses to an imaginary audience,” according to another prisoner. Brosig was transferred to the Jester IV Unit, a facility for prisoners with psychiatric issues.
Johnson was five years into an 18-year sentence for engaging in organized criminal activity when he was killed.
The ASTP takes prisoners who have been in administrative segregation for long periods of time and provides a 16-week program that results in their reclassification to general population at the medium custody (G4) level. The program is not voluntary and a significant number of prisoners enrolled in the program reportedly want to return to administrative segregation.
Serious disciplinary violations can ...
by Ed Lyon
In December 2017, a Texas State Bar committee issued a scathing report concerning the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), which oversees the State Counsel for Offenders (SCO) – an agency that provides legal representation for prisoners in certain cases.
SCO attorneys represent prisoners accused of committing crimes while incarcerated, those facing civil commitment proceedings, reviews and releases for those already civilly committed, immigration removal proceedings, prisoner exchange programs and occasional assistance in some post-conviction cases. The SCO is not allowed to assist in civil rights cases or those involving prison policies and procedures, fee-generating cases and certain other issues. The agency’s counterpart is the Special Prosecution Unit (SPU), which prosecutes prisoners accused of crimes committed while in custody and represents the state in civil commitment hearings.
Both agencies are overseen by the Texas Board of Criminal Justice (TBCJ), which also oversees the TDCJ’s sprawling prison system of more than 140,000 prisoners. The State Bar committee report found that funding for the SPU was as much as 40% higher than for the SCO, and 20% higher if the SPU’s juvenile offender division was excluded. The SPU, though funded and supervised by the TBCJ, is overseen by ...
by Derek Gilna
On March 3, 2018, Alva Campbell, a 69-year-old death row prisoner convicted of two murders, died in prison. Ironically, he passed away just five months after his poor health forced the postponement of his execution.
In November 2017, prison officials were unable to find a vein to insert a needle for a lethal injection. Campbell, who had exhausted all of his appeals and been denied clemency by both Ohio’s parole board and by Governor John Kasich, had a well-documented history of medical problems.
Campbell was sentenced to death after killing 18-year-old Charles Dials in 1997; he shot the teenager during a carjacking after escaping from police custody on other charges. Campbell had already served a 20-year sentence for a previous murder.
According to his attorney, David Stebbins, when Campbell’s execution was postponed after the failed attempt he said, “This is a day I’ll never forget.” Campbell, who had severe breathing problems as a result of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer, was given a wedge-shaped pillow during the lethal injection process to help him breathe.
However, following four attempts to find a vein in his arms or legs through which to administer the drugs ...
by Ed Lyon
On May 1, 2010, Pedro Temich was arrested in Meriden, Connecticut. He was taken to jail, where video cameras recorded officer Evan Cossette pushing Temich, who was handcuffed and not resisting. Temich fell, hitting the back of his head on a concrete bench.
Cossette then entered the cell several times, placing the unconscious Temich in different poses instead of providing medical assistance, which he was able to do as a first responder. He removed the handcuffs from Temich before EMTs arrived. Temich was later treated for a skull fracture; it took 12 staples to close his scalp laceration.
During an internal affairs probe, Sgt. Leonard Caponigro found no evidence in the video footage to substantiate Cossette’s claim that Temich, who is 5’1” tall, was preparing to head-butt the 6’1” tall officer, or that Tamich was combative at any time. Caponigro’s report concluded that Cossette had violated the department’s use of force policy.
On August 31, 2010, Deputy Police Chief Timothy Topulos issued Cossette a letter of reprimand on a lesser charge. Cossette’s father was Meriden’s police chief at the time.
Federal prosecutors charged Cossette for his use of force against Temich and with obstructing a federal investigation ...
by Christopher Zoukis
In Prison Legal News, much of our reporting addresses the abuses that the U.S. carceral system inflicts on prisoners. But prisoners (and their families) aren’t the only ones whose lives are impacted by mass incarceration. New research is exposing the harm that our nation’s prisons do to guards and other employees.
Fleet Maull, Ph.D., an author and corrections consultant, has noted that “[t]he rate of PTSD and suicide among correctional officers [COs] is often compared to that of combat military veterans.”
A 2011 survey conducted by Desert Waters Correctional Outreach – which seeks to provide “resources for improving the health and functioning of corrections staff” – confirmed the high rate of PTSD among prison guards. The study revealed that 14 percent of military veterans reported symptoms of PTSD, while 34 percent of guards who responded to the survey said they experienced PTSD symptoms.
“COs often compare starting their shift to entering a combat zone; making it quite common for them to shift into hyper-vigilance,” said Maull. “With this state of hyper-arousal, the body is flooded with adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol – a primary cause of chronic stress related to health risks ...
by Ed Lyon
When Wilson County, Kansas Sheriff Pete Figgins instituted a postcard-only correspondence policy at the county jail, prisoners were only allowed to send and receive letters to and from attorneys. No notice was provided when mail was rejected under the new policy.
In April 2016, the ACLU Foundation ...
by Matt Clarke
The family of a prisoner who died at a Richland Heights, Missouri jail after untreated deep vein thrombosis caused a fatal pulmonary embolism has settled a lawsuit brought against the jail, two hospitals and hospital employees. The settlement was confidential but the city’s portion was released as ...
The suicides of three prisoners over a four-month period in mid-2017 brought new scrutiny to the Hawaii Department of Public Safety (DPS). Coming just two years after reaching a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the trio of suicides raises concerns that DPS officials are not following the plans that resolved the DOJ’s lawsuit over mental health care at the Oahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC).
Filed in 2008, the suit alleged that the DPS exhibited “deliberate indifference to the mental health needs” of prisoners at OCCC, where current DPS director Nolan Espinda was then the warden. After six years of wrangling, a settlement was reached in 2014 and the DPS agreed to a corrective action plan to bring mental health care up to constitutional standards. In June 2015, the DOJ found that OCCC was in compliance and settled the litigation.
However, OCCC medical director Dr. Lori Karan was fired the following month. Mental health services declined from 20 hours a week in June 2015 to just five hours a week, said Dr. Mark Mitchell, who created the corrective action plan approved by the DOJ.
Mitchell claimed he was terminated in retaliation after he complained about declining standards ...
On February 2, 2017, Wisconsin officials agreed to pay $13,000 to settle two pro se federal lawsuits.
Samuel S. Upthegrove, a Wisconsin state prisoner with mental health issues, filed two suits related to conditions of his confinement. One of his complaints alleged that, while he was incarcerated at the ...
by Derek Gilna
In his State of the Union address in January 2018, President Donald Trump announced that he had signed an executive order to ensure the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, commonly known as Gitmo, would remain open – keeping a promise made during his election campaign to maintain the facility and “load it up with some bad dudes.”
As President-elect, Trump had criticized the administration of former President Barack Obama for reducing the number of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay – of whom most had not been charged with any crime, much less convicted – calling for “no further releases.” The Obama administration resettled 196 detainees from Gitmo to the custody of law enforcement or military forces in other countries, a practice that Trump had mischaracterized as their “release.”
“These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield,” he tweeted in early 2017.
Trump signed his executive order on January 30, 2018. But just four months later, his administration repatriated Ahmed al-Darbi to Saudi Arabia. Al-Darbi’s brother-in-law, Khalid al-Mihdhar, was one of the hijackers of the airliner that crashed into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
Trump’s executive ...
Alabama: Former Draper Correctional Facility guard Johntarance Henriquis McCray was sentenced on July 27, 2017 to 54 months in federal prison for bringing crack cocaine, powder cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, Xanax and Suboxone into the facility. A search of his vehicle had also uncovered a duffle bag containing additional drugs, a loaded 9mm handgun and more than $400 in cash. “Corrupt guards who sneak drugs into prison are not only putting the safety of inmates at risk, they are also jeopardizing the safety of their fellow officers,” Acting U.S Attorney Clark Morris said in a statement. McCray had worked at the prison for only nine months.
Arizona: Mathew Granado, a Pima County jail guard, was fired in May 2017 and arrested following his alleged assault on a prisoner. A review of surveillance video found that Granado entered the victim’s cell; several prisoners who witnessed the incident told investigators that the guard then punched the victim repeatedly in the midsection before grabbing him by the throat. Granado appealed his termination to the Pima County Merit System Commission. That agency heard testimony for six days over a three-month period, then announced on November 15, 2017 that Granado would be reinstated to ...