by Matt Clarke and Christopher Zoukis
During a heat wave in the summer of 2017, dozens of protesters gathered outside the Medium Security Institution in St. Louis, Missouri and chanted “shut it down,” after a video showing prisoners at the jail begging for relief from soaring temperatures went viral. But in Texas and elsewhere, prisoners have taken their complaints of extreme – and sometimes deadly – heat to court.
Under a 1977 Texas statute, county jails must keep interior temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees. But over 70 percent of Texas’ 141,000 state prisoners are held in facilities that lack air conditioning, and Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) spokesman Jason Clark said prison officials would not consider retrofitting those facilities with climate control, as that would be “extremely expensive.” Of the state’s 105 prisons, only 30 are fully air-conditioned.
The TDCJ pointed to a study indicating the cost of retrofitting just four prisons with AC would run about $350 million – an amount that exceeded the construction costs for four of the state’s 2,500-bed maximum-security facilities. Yet the TDCJ has managed to air condition administrative areas in its older prisons to ensure the comfort of ...
by Derek Gilna
The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the parent organization and publisher of Prison Legal News, filed suit in federal court in Chicago on February 13, 2018, arguing the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) had censored or refused to deliver its publications sent to state prisoners in violation of its rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The lawsuit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, monetary damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs. A motion for a preliminary injunction was filed in conjunction with the complaint.
The defendants in the case include IDOC director John Baldwin and the wardens of all IDOC facilities; the suit alleges that “certain prisons within the state of Illinois have withheld all or part of issues of Prison Legal News, as well as books published and/or distributed by HRDC.”
One of the attorneys representing HRDC, Alan S. Mills with the Uptown People’s Law Center, said the IDOC often fails to deliver the publications and then does not explain the reason for the non-delivery. “They check off the little box sometimes, which says ‘security,’ but that’s all they say. So there’s no way for us to know which articles they think are a ...
On September 29, 2017, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated part of a Mississippi state prisoner’s lawsuit complaining of inadequate mental health treatment at the South Mississippi Correctional Institution (SMCI).
Johnny Carl Grogan was incarcerated at SMCI when he allegedly attempted to commit suicide by drug overdose on July 4-5, 2014. He had previously been diagnosed with depression and suicidal ideation, and had received treatment for his mental health disorders for six years at another Mississippi prison before being transferred to SMCI. He filed a pro se federal civil rights suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that SMCI had insufficient mental health staff and policies, and that various mental health care providers had performed inadequately when evaluating and treating him – especially in regard to his suicide attempt.
The district court granted summary judgment to all the defendants, including Dr. Parveen Kumar, psychiatrist; a mental health counselor; a medical administrator; a lieutenant; and several unidentified nurses. Grogan appealed.
The Fifth Circuit held that, although Grogan attacked SMCI’s general mental health care policies, he failed to show how, for example, having only two counselors for about 3,000 prisoners or failing to have a psychiatrist on ...
by Paul Wright
Each summer there is a wave of heat-related deaths in American prisons, mostly in the southern states of the former confederacy where the government has adopted a policy of explicit cruelty by building prisons without air conditioning to ensure the misery of the caged. This year will be no different, so we are getting the summer started with an overview of recent litigation and other developments on the excessive – and sometimes fatal – summer heat that U.S. prisoners suffer. What is often overlooked in these stories is the pathetic state of work conditions for staff members. While prisoners endure sweltering cell blocks during the summer months, so do the guards assigned to watch over them; apparently they are content to sweat their way through 40-hour work weeks. It is not about the cost of air conditioning prisons so much as cruelty and making sure prisoners are as miserable as possible, even if it kills them.
On the topic of miserable conditions in the deep south, on May 15, 2018, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the censorship of Prison Legal News by the Florida Department of Corrections. The FDOC has censored all issues of ...
On September 29, 2017, the Nebraska Supreme Court reversed a state district court’s summary judgment order and grant of injunctive relief that enjoined the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS) from denying a marriage ceremony via videoconference to two prisoners who wanted to marry, or enforcing its policy prohibiting such marriages.
Paul Gillpatrick and Niccole Wetherell are Nebraska state prisoners serving lengthy sentences. They each filed a “Marriage Intention Form,” listing the other as their intended spouse and requesting a marriage ceremony via videoconference. The requests were denied because an internal NDCS policy prohibits prisoners from being transported for the purpose of marriage, and prison officials interpreted Neb. Rev. Stat. § 42-109 to require the physical presence of both parties at a marriage ceremony.
After exhausting administrative remedies, Gillpatrick and Wetherell filed a civil rights action in state court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Nebraska Constitution. Their initial complaint named NDCS, its director and two wardens in their official capacities. The suit was later amended, dropping NDCS and suing the other defendants only in their individual capacities.
“At its most basic, this case is about challenging the government’s authority to impose an unnecessary and ...
by Steve Horn
In the two months following an April 15, 2018 riot at the Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, South Carolina that left seven prisoners dead and at least 22 injured, the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) has renewed its push to get the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to approve jamming contraband cell phones in prisons and jails. Additionally, several prisoners who were wounded during the riot have filed lawsuits alleging that staff at the facility failed to protect them from foreseeable violence.
The incident at Lee Correctional was the deadliest prison uprising in the U.S. in a quarter century. [See: PLN, May 2018, p.12]. Bryan P. Stirling, director of the South Carolina DOC, has maintained that the incident was caused and orchestrated by prisoners over contraband cell phones – a position shared by Governor Henry McMaster.
But others say corrupt prison guards who sold cell phones to prisoners for upwards of $1,500 each are to blame. In a lawsuit filed against the South Carolina DOC in June 2018, Javon Rivers, who was incarcerated at Lee at the time of the disturbance, claims that “guards were allowed to assist inmates with illegal activities in exchange for ...
by Matt Clarke
On June 22, 2017, a federal jury awarded $10,000 to a prisoner against six Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) guards for beating him and issuing false disciplinary reports in retaliation for grievances and previous successful litigation.
Daniel Ostrander, a Texas state prisoner, was held in ...
State Correctional Institution Phoenix, the $400 million replacement for SCI Graterford in Skipjack Township, Pennsylvania, began accepting prisoners in March 2018. At that time the decade-long project – the second-most costly public building in the state – was already two years behind schedule, with only one-third of its cells finished and available.
One of three prisons approved in 2007 under then-Governor Ed Rendell, SCI Phoenix – located about a mile from the Graterford facility – is designed to hold more prisoners in fewer cells. At full capacity, 3,830 prisoners will be housed in 1,972 cells, most of which are double-bunked.
Pennsylvania’s prison population has been declining, dropping four percent in the past five years – while the state’s overall population grew just 3/10 of a percent. Under former Governor Tom Corbett, the Department of Corrections began replacing older facilities like Graterford, an effort that continues under current Governor Tom Wolf. The average cost per prisoner at Phoenix will be about $40,000 annually, which is a significant savings over the costs at Graterford.
However, Governor Wolf and DOC Secretary John E. Wetzel, a Corbett appointee, face blow-back from lawmakers who have sponsored legislation to curb prison closures ...
by Monte McCoin
Jason Monteleone, with the Boise law firm of Johnson and Monteleone, called the medical neglect that his client, Gary L. Merchant, 65, received from Idaho’s prison medical care provider, Corizon Health, “egregious” in a federal lawsuit filed on December 26, 2017.
“The initial medical opinion that’s been obtained demonstrates not just reckless behavior but deliberate indifference,” Monteleone said. “I do a lot of correctional medical cases, and I’ve not seen one this bad.”
Merchant, who had made “at least five written requests and, in total, over a dozen requests” to get medical attention for a worsening infection in his left leg, resorted to desperate measures to force Corizon officials to transport him to a hospital for treatment. He swallowed a small pencil-sharpener razor blade.
Merchant was finally sent to St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with “severe sepsis and septic shock.” Doctors immediately attempted surgical intervention but were unable to save the leg and had to amputate it above the knee. Turning their attention to the swallowed razor blade, medical staff performed a colostomy to remove the blade and a damaged section of Merchant’s intestines.
The lawsuit demands a jury trial ...
by Steve Horn
In little-noticed regulatory filings in New York, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio and Arizona in May 2018, telecom company Securus Technologies solidified its grip over the prison and jail phone service industry by announcing its acquisition of one of its competitors, ICSolutions, also known as ICS. First reported by Law360.com, the purchase further consolidates the duopoly of the prison telecom market, which is largely split between Securus and Global Tel*Link (GTL).
GTL and Securus currently own over 70 percent of the prison and jail phone industry, according to data crunched by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), a criminal justice research and advocacy organization. The regulatory filings – joint petitions by Securus and ICSolutions regarding the acquisition – also included the private equity firm TKC Holdings, the company that owned ICSolutions. TKC Holdings also owns Trinity Services Group and Keefe Group, which provide food and commissary services to prisons and jails.
“Securus will acquire all the issued and outstanding membership interests of ICS,” the filings stated. “As a result, ICS will become a wholly owned, direct subsidiary of Securus. Petitioners intend to consummate the Transaction as promptly as possible after the necessary federal and state regulatory ...
On May 31, 2017, the Iowa Department of Corrections (DOC) settled a lawsuit brought by a state prisoner who alleged religious discrimination against Odinists. The settlement included monetary damages and attorney’s fees, both of which were confidential. It also required the DOC to purchase food and beverages for Odinist ceremonial events, and to maintain various Odinist religious items at state prisons.
David Joseph Meister, serving life without parole, filed a pro se federal civil rights action against prison officials and four of the DOC’s contracted religious services coordinators in 2016, alleging discrimination against incarcerated Odinists. The central issue in Meister’s complaint was that Odinists at the Iowa State Correctional Center were not allowed to use the main chapel facility, but instead were required to congregate in their own housing units. This kept them from meeting as a complete group and prevented them from using facilities available at the chapel and some religious items, such as candles, necessary to properly perform their religious rites. Those restrictions were not placed on most Christian groups, but applied to non-Christian groups.
During the course of the litigation, attorney Craig Durham began representing Meister. The defendants’ settlement of the lawsuit included a confidential payment to ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Tasers have become a popular addition on the utility belts of U.S. law enforcement officers. The devices, which fire small darts connected by wires to a stun gun, deliver a jolt of electricity that causes a paralyzing neuromuscular response – basically, they hurt a lot and immobilize the target for a short period of time. According to a spokesman for Axon Enterprises, Inc., which produces and sells Tasers, they can “make correctional environments significantly safer for all parties.”
They can also kill. [See: PLN, Oct. 2006, p.1].
According to a December 2017 investigative report by Reuters news service, Tasers have been linked to over 1,000 deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers since 1993. About 10 percent of those deaths occurred behind bars, and most of the 104 prisoners who died in Taser-related incidents have been killed since 2000. In the majority of cases, the detainee was either already in handcuffs or otherwise restrained when subjected to the fatal Taser shocks.
In May 2016, for example, Cody Franklin was pinned face-down in an Ozark, Arkansas jail cell, his hands cuffed behind his back, when police sergeant Joseph Griffith shocked him three times ...
by Ed Lyon
Already rocked by a scandal that put its former sheriff and his top deputy behind bars, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) has come under fire for its inconsistent reporting of violent incidents in the county’s jail system, which is the largest in the nation.
According to an August 2017 audit report by the county’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the problem lies in the LASD’s data reporting systems, which employ multiple overlapping databases that are not reconciled with each other.
The impetus for the OIG audit came from a set of jail violence statistics released to the Los Angeles Times in February 2017. Those numbers did not match data provided to the OIG at the end of 2016. Then, in April 2017, LASD officials admitted that neither set of numbers was one “that it could confidently report as accurate,” according to the OIG’s report, which also quoted LASD employees who said they “did not believe their own data.”
Responding to the audit, LASD spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said the department was “committed to providing accurate custody-related data,” and that Sheriff Jim McDonnell was aware of the problem and had ordered an internal ...
by Derek Gilna
In an opinion issued May 14, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that banned the full-body shackling of pretrial detainees, based on the issue of mootness. The decision, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, noted that the “question presented is whether the appeals were saved from mootness either because the defendants sought ‘class-like relief’ in a ‘functional class action,’ or because the challenged practice was ‘capable of repetition, yet evading review.’”
Since 2013, federal criminal defendants in San Diego, California, including pretrial detainees who are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, have been subjected to full-body shackles in non-jury proceedings. The restraints involve “a defendant’s hands [being] closely handcuffed together, these handcuffs are connected by chain to another chain running around the defendant’s waist, and the defendant’s feet are shackled and chained together.”
The Supreme Court noted that all the plaintiffs in the case had already pleaded guilty, and rejected the Ninth Circuit’s argument that “class-like relief measures” did not prevent mootness of their claims. “The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure establish for criminal cases no vehicle comparable to the [Fair Labor Standards ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Singer and songwriter John Legend is not just a ten-time Grammy winner. The international superstar is also part of a family that has had several members locked up, including his mother. And he wants to do something “to change the national conversation about our country’s misguided policies,” according to letsfreeamerica.com, the website associated with his #FreeAmerica campaign. [See: PLN, Sept. 2016, p.63; Nov. 2015, p.63].
As part of that campaign, Legend has visited and performed in several prisons. When he sang for prisoners at the Washington Correctional Center for Women in 2016, he told the audience “this system is not healthy right now.”
“We’ve gone too far on the punitive side,” he said. “We need to focus more on fairness, compassion, mercy and restoring people so they can be whole and go back into the community and live productive, compassionate, healthy lives.”
Legend recently launched his Unlocked Futures initiative, which will help newly-released prisoners by providing them with business grants and job training. The singer announced the initiative, which includes a partnership with New Profit and Bank of America, at the 4th Annual Town & County Philanthropy Summit, held in ...
On February 7, 2018, the U.S. Census Bureau announced how it will define residence for the 2020 Census. Ignoring overwhelming public support for a change in how incarcerated persons are counted in the Census, the Bureau announced it is leaving in place the inaccurate and outdated practice of counting incarcerated persons as “residents” of the prison locations instead of their home communities. In response to this development, the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) released the following statement:
The Prison Policy Initiative is profoundly disappointed by the Census Bureau’s proposal to again count nearly two million people in the wrong place on Census day. Continuing this practice will ensure another decade of “prison gerrymandering” that unjustly awards extra political power to the regions that host prisons, perverting the principles of equal representation.
“The Census Bureau blatantly ignored the overwhelming consensus urging a change in the Census count for incarcerated persons,” said Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative. “When the Bureau asked for public comment on its residence rules two years ago, over 99% of the 77,863 comments regarding residence rules for incarcerated persons urged the Bureau to count incarcerated persons at their home address, which is ...
by Christopher Zoukis
On the federal level, hopes for criminal justice reform have fallen victim to partisan bickering in Congress and a lack of substantive interest from the White House. Fortunately, state officials are not waiting around, and state-level reform efforts are underway across the country.
Both houses of the Massachusetts legislature passed reform measures in late 2017. The bills address three hot-button issues: bail reform, use of solitary confinement and mandatory minimum sentences – especially for drug offenders. The reform efforts also seek to include organizations such as Boys and Girls Clubs, as well as homeless shelters, to help prevent people from resorting to crime.
With 68 percent of its local jail population suffering from substance abuse problems, Massachusetts also seeks to expand drug-sentence diversion and treatment programs – particularly to identify and treat those addicted to opioids – in an attempt to slow the revolving door between jails and hospitals for drug abusers.
In California, Governor Jerry Brown has signed a slew of bills aimed at improving the state’s criminal and juvenile justice systems. They included changes to the parole process for prisoners serving lengthy sentences for crimes committed before the age of 25, and for elderly offenders ...
by Dale Chappell
A group of people who had neither been arrested nor convicted of a crime nevertheless spent two months in county jails – as part of a reality show with hidden cameras, in order to expose the harsh experience of life behind bars.
The revealing program, called “60 Days In,” was created by TV channel A&E to show its viewers what things are like for prisoners held in local lock-ups, by following volunteers jailed on fictitious charges. None of the guards or other prisoners knew the volunteers were undercover – only a small group of jail officials, who agreed to the filming but had no control over what was revealed in the show.
To explain the presence of a roving video crew, jail officials told prisoners and guards that a documentary was being filmed. Other cameras were hidden at the facility. The footage caught guards conducting shakedowns and harassing prisoners, as well as the brutal living conditions at the jails.
“Stay in your own lane,” advised one volunteer on how to stay safe.
“I am at this jail’s mercy, that they can essentially do with me whatever they please,” said another. “It was quite intimidating ...
by Derek Gilna
Everett Joseph Jewett, a disabled prisoner held in the medical unit at a jail in Shasta County, California, filed suit in federal court in 2013 alleging the facility had failed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. After five years of intense discovery and motion practice, and the filing of five amended complaints, the parties finally agreed to settle the case pending final approval by the district court.
Jewett’s original complaint alleged that the Shasta County jail was in violation of the ADA because it did not have a solitary confinement unit for disabled prisoners, who were instead classified as being held in administrative segregation; because detainees with disabilities were not housed in “the most integrated setting appropriate to [their] needs”; and because disabled prisoners were held in medical areas when they were not “actually receiving medical care or treatment.”
According to Jewett, those failures to adhere to the ADA unfairly penalized a dozen disabled detainees at the jail, who were unable to participate in programs offered to non-disabled prisoners in the general publication.
Jewett also sued the jail’s private health care provider, the California Forensic ...
by Derek Gilna
On February 21, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court held, in a 5-4 decision, that when a prisoner wins a monetary judgment in a federal lawsuit and is entitled to attorney fees as the prevailing party, he or she is obligated to pay the first 25 percent of those fees from any damages awarded.
At issue in the case was the interpretation of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d)(2), which states: “[A] portion of the [prisoner’s] judgment (not to exceed 25 percent) shall be applied to satisfy the amount of attorney’s fees awarded against the defendant. If the award of attorney’s fees is not greater than 150 percent of the judgment, the excess shall be paid by the defendant.”
The Supreme Court held that that statutory provision, included as part of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, “pretty clearly tells us that the prisoner has to pay some part of the attorney’s fee award before financial responsibility shifts to the defendant. But how much is enough? Does the first sentence allow the district court discretion to take any amount it wishes from the plaintiff’s judgment to pay the attorney, from 25% down to a ...
by Matt Clarke
On July 31, 2017, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a judgment for a U.S. citizen who was improperly held in an immigration detention facility for 1,273 days.
Davino Watson was born in Jamaica. When he was 13, he entered the U.S as a lawful permanent resident to live with his father, a Jamaican citizen who was a lawful permanent resident. His father became a naturalized U.S. citizen four years later. Under the law in effect at that time, this automatically made Watson a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Five years later, Watson pleaded guilty in New York state court to selling cocaine, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents investigated his citizenship status. He claimed to be a U.S. citizen and provided the names, addresses and phone numbers for his father, Hopeton Ulando Watson, and step-mother, Clare Watson. ICE officials made no attempt to verify this information. Instead, they looked for those names in the ICE database and found files for Hopeton Livingston Watson and Calrie Watson, both of whom were Jamaican citizens. Although a cursory reading of the files would have shown they were not Watson’s parents, an ICE agent ...
by Mumia Abu-Jamal
They are a cross section of American men: Black, white, Greek (apparently), Italian.
Seven men – George R. Efthimiou; Mark Johnson; George T. McHale; John Shnipes, Jr.; Jeffery T. Staff; Paul J. Voglino; and James J. Walsh – seven guards at a county jail in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania.
Seven men who collectively face 37 counts of sexual and institutional assault against a dozen women.
The women? Local newspapers have a policy of not naming them, which adds to their extreme invisibility.
As prisoners they were already invisible.
How could they feel otherwise when they complained for years, only to be ignored, retaliated against, only to be assaulted again and again and again.
The trial against the Lackawanna County Seven has begun – and who knows what will happen? They may be convicted or they may be acquitted. Six of the seven have already been fired by county officials, while the seventh, Shnipes, a former local city councilman, resigned when the charges first arose in a civil action brought by the women in 2013. According to local accounts, over $750,000 has been spent in legal costs arising from the sexual assaults.
The seven men are charged with ...
by David Reutter
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a Virginia state prisoner had stated a claim for violation of his constitutional rights when guards gave him a “rough ride” in a prison van in retaliation for filing grievances and lawsuits.
Paul C. Thompson was placed in handcuffs, leg irons, shackles and a black box restraint device, then loaded into a prison van on April 8, 2010 for transport to the Mecklenburg Circuit Court for a proceeding. Prison guards Diming and Cooper refused Thompson’s request to secure his seat belt.
The van then made an uneventful ride down a “windy, sharply-curved road for about an hour and a half.” The guards stopped at a convenience store and turned back in the direction of Deep Meadow Correctional Center after they received a call saying the court proceeding had been canceled.
According to Thompson, Cooper drove “erratically, exceeding the speed limit and crossing the white and yellow traffic lines.” Not seat-belted, Thompson was thrown from one side to the other, and sudden stops and accelerations caused him to be thrown forward and backward. In response to Thompson’s pleas to stop driving dangerously, Cooper and Diming allegedly laughed and ...
by David Reutter
A Tennessee state court judge has reversed course on a controversial sentence reduction program following an uproar from civil rights and prisoners’ rights advocates. He later received a public letter of reprimand from the Board of Judicial Conduct.
White County General Sessions Judge Sam E. Benningfield, Jr. said his only agenda in cutting the sentences of male and female prisoners who voluntarily agreed to undergo long-term birth control procedures was to address the problem of unwanted and drug-addicted babies.
Activists, however, said his May 15, 2017 order establishing the program was an unconstitutional infringement on the right to procreate. The incentive program cut 30 days off the sentences of male prisoners who had vasectomies and women who received a birth control implant called Nexplanon. Forty-two men agreed to vasectomies while 32 women agreed to the implants, which are intended to prevent pregnancy for up to four years. None of the male prisoners actually received vasectomies.
The ACLU of Tennessee said the program was an unconstitutional, coercive intrusion on the rights of vulnerable people.
“Offering a so-called ‘choice’ between jail and coerced contraception or sterilization is unconstitutional,” the organization said in a statement. Judge Benningfield was “imposing ...
by Ed Lyon
While most states have laws allowing the involuntary civil commitment (ICC) of the mentally ill, some states extend such laws to addicted drug abusers. Massachusetts is the only state to specify by statute that people whose substance abuse problems “pose a serious risk of harm” can be civilly committed against their will for up to 90 days. The law, known simply as Section 35, has been used to commit thousands of people; according to a January 9, 2018 news article, more than 6,500 substance abusers in Massachusetts were placed in treatment under an ICC order during fiscal year 2016 alone.
Often, ICC is sought by parents for an adult child who needs a structured, secure treatment environment. The Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC) operates five treatment centers for drug abusers admitted under ICC orders. Patients who escape from the centers – the DOC says they “elope” – may have warrants issued for them, but they are not actual fugitives since they have not been criminally charged or convicted.
Sean, who declined to provide his last name, eloped from the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center (MASAC), which opened in May 2017 at a former state prison ...
by Christopher Zoukis
A December 11, 2017 report issued by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) harshly criticized Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for serious deficiencies at four immigration detention facilities.
The OIG report arrived just weeks after two non-profit groups, Detention Watch Network and the Center for Constitutional Rights, released a damning review of 201 immigration detention facilities that concluded they operate under inadequate standards with insufficient accountability, under contracts with “perverse incentives.”
The analysis by the pair of non-profits did not include the T. Don Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas, which houses female ICE detainees. That facility is operated by private prison company CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corp. of America). It was also the site of a November 2017 complaint filed by Laura Monterrosa, from El Salvador, who claimed she was sexually abused by a guard at the 500-bed detention center.
Many other detainees had already suffered sexual abuse, according to Sofia Casini, the coordinator of immigrant programs at Grassroots Leadership, a non-profit based in Austin, Texas. “You have to keep in mind that all of the women in Hutto are asylum seekers and many have experienced sexual assault. Not ...
by Derek Gilna
On October 5, 1994, Sabein Burgess’ life changed forever when his girlfriend, Michelle Dyson, was brutally murdered at her home in Baltimore, Maryland. Burgess discovered his girlfriend’s body, called for help and then returned to cradle Dyson’s head in his hands until police officers arrived. As horrible ...
by Matt Clarke
On April 23, 2017, Cook County, Illinois paid $380,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a woman using the pseudonym “Jane Doe,” who alleged she was repeatedly beaten and sexually assaulted by other prisoners during her 27-day stay at the Cook County jail, while guards ...
by Monte McCoin
On March 23, 2018, Clackamas County Circuit Court Judge Michael Wetzel sentenced a former county deputy and probation officer to 35 years and one month in prison for repeatedly sexually abusing two young girls, separately, between 2004 and 2012.
Gordon Mead, 69, worked as a Clackamas County deputy between August 1975 and February 1982 before transferring to the county’s parole and probation office. State records show he resigned from that position in May 2001.
According to court documents, in November 2015 one of the victims, then 12 years old, told her parents and then police that Mead had begun molesting her when she was five. She directed investigators to a second victim whom Mead began to abuse at age seven. That girl confirmed the allegations. A third alleged victim testified during a pre-trial hearing that she, too, had been raped by Mead in the mid 1980s at age nine, but had been too afraid to tell anyone.
Mead was indicted for first-degree rape, first-degree sexual abuse and first-degree sodomy of the two initial victims, but was not charged for raping the third victim.
Sources: www.usnews.com, www.oregonlive.com, www.seattlepi.com
by Ed Lyon
On April 11, 1993, hundreds of prisoners began rioting at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. The disturbance lasted eleven days, resulting in the deaths of nine prisoners and one guard. [See: PLN, June 1993, p.9; Dec. 1993, p.7].
Five prisoners were sentenced to death and many others received lengthy prison terms for their roles in the uprising. Ohio prison officials denied media access to the prisoners convicted in connection with the riot for over 20 years. In December 2013, members of the news media and five Ohio prisoners filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, seeking equal treatment regarding media access comparable to other state prisoners.
The complaint, headed by attorney Raymond Vasvari, cited numerous examples of other Ohio prisoners who had identical security classifications as those involved in the 1993 riot who were granted media access and interviews. Vasvari argued that denying media access for the prisoners involved in the riot constituted unequal treatment. The lawsuit sought a declaration that the prisoners had been unconstitutionally denied media access, and preliminary and permanent injunctions to prohibit prison officials from denying “in-person media access” absent ...
As of May 2018, Virginia’s Board of Corrections (BOC) had counted 21 jail deaths in the state since the start of the year. But thanks to a new law passed in 2017, the BOC now has authority to review deaths in local and regional jails. The statute is a direct result of the lack of accountability in the 2015 death of 24-year-old prisoner Jamycheal Mitchell.
As previously reported in PLN, Mitchell suffered from mental illness and died of starvation at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail (HRRJ). He had been arrested for stealing $5 worth of junk food from a convenience store, and his death, following 101 days in custody, sparked a U.S. Department of Justice investigation. [See: PLN, Feb. 2017, p.24; Jan. 2017, p.44].
Mitchell’s death revealed problems at the jail that compelled lawmakers to act.
“Nobody seemed to have responsibility or was willing to take responsibility for how this actually occurred,” then-Governor Terry McAuliffe said at a press conference, where he signed the new law on February 25, 2017.
The statute redefines qualifications for the nine-member BOC, requiring expertise in areas like mental health, medical care and correctional facility management. It also clarifies that the ...
by Dale Chappell
Indiana’s Sex Offender Management and Monitoring (SOMM) program violated the Fifth Amendment by compelling prisoners to incriminate themselves or face longer prison terms, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana held on September 28, 2017.
The ruling was entered in a class-action suit that began four years ago when Donald Lacy filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming the Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) violated his constitutional rights by revoking his good-conduct time (GCT) after he refused to incriminate himself in order to comply with the SOMM program.
Lacy, convicted by a jury of child molestation in 2008, has always maintained his innocence. When he refused to admit guilt as required by the SOMM program, he was disciplined for failing to participate and lost good-conduct time. Lacy continued to maintain his innocence and was at risk of losing all his GCT – more than 2,000 days – after being hit with over a dozen disciplinary actions for refusing to comply with SOMM.
Lacy was not alone. Other prisoners filed lawsuits after losing their GCT for failing to admit guilt or refusing to admit to past criminal conduct for ...
by Dale Chappell
An “egregious” lack of medical treatment that resulted in the death of a jail prisoner led Albany County, New York and its private health care contractor to settle a lawsuit filed by the prisoner’s family for over $1 million.
Mark Cannon died in 2014 after he suffered ...
On March 29, 2018, a Connecticut federal district court held state officials could not first indemnify a prison guard against whom a prisoner had won a jury award in a civil rights case, then seize the majority of the prisoner’s award for costs of incarceration and various other expenses and ...
A North Carolina man who served over 25 years in prison before being exonerated for the rape of an elderly woman has received a $9.5 million settlement.
Timothy Scott Bridges was 23 years old when he was arrested by the Charlotte Police Department for the May 1989 rape of ...
by Dale Chappell
Sussex County, New Jersey, has agreed to pay a former prisoner $150,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging guards at the Keogh-Dwyer Correctional Facility (KDCF) – the county’s jail – put a “hit” on him and had him beaten.
After Robert Woodruff was convicted of burglary and ...
by Matthew Clarke
On December 5, 2017, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed in part the dismissal of a prisoner’s lawsuit challenging the denial of Rastafarian group religious services at a North Carolina state prison.
Torrey F. Wilcox is an adherent of the Rastafarian faith incarcerated at the Marion Correctional Institution (MCI). Superintendent Dwayne Terrell and Assistant Superintendent of Programs Randy Teague suspended Rastafarian services at MCI, citing lack of a staff chaplain. They refused to provide certified non-custodial staff to monitor the group service even though that had been done for other religious groups. Wilcox filed a grievance challenging the discontinuation of services and exhausted his administrative appeals. The response to his initial grievance said the Office of Religious Services, headed by Betty Brown, had authorized Terrell and Teague to suspend Rastafarian services.
About two months after the suspension, MCI hired Chaplain Menhinick. Menhinick initially told Wilcox that the services would be restarted, but later informed him that “Terrell had made an executive decision not to open the Rastafarian worship service.” Wilcox filed a federal civil rights suit against Brown, Terrell, Teague and Chaplain Menhinick.
In performing the PLRA screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § ...
A North Carolina man who served 37 years for a double homicide he did not commit has received a $4 million settlement from the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) in a federal lawsuit.
Joseph Sledge, Jr. became a suspect in the September 5, 1976 murder of Josephine Davis, 74, and ...
by Monte McCoin
On February 26, 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Darrin P. Gayles sentenced a former confidential informant for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to a year in prison and a year of supervised release for obstructing justice. In exchange for a cash payment, the informant had offered to sell informant status and the possibility of a sentence reduction to a federal prisoner for cooperating in an investigation.
Miguel Rodriguez-Sierra worked as an informant for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office in Miami from 2003 until May 2016. He admitted in December 2017 to plotting to sell information to an unidentified federal prisoner who had no role in or knowledge of a specific drug trafficking operation, with the expectation the false information would lead investigators to offer the prisoner a reduction in his federal prison term.
The prisoner instead reported Rodriquez-Sierra’s offer and agreed to cooperate with agents from DHS, ICE and the FBI. During the course of the investigation between November 2015 and November 2016, investigators documented two separate $5,000 payments made to Rodriguez-Sierra through an undercover officer who claimed to be an associate of the prisoner.
Benjamin G. Greenberg, U.S ...
A diabetic Georgia prisoner received $550,000 to settle a lawsuit claiming he lost one of his legs due to improper medical treatment and neglect by Dr. Chiquita Fye, the medical director at Macon State Prison (MSP).
Michael Tarver, 55, serving a life sentence without parole, was injured while getting ...
by Steve Horn
Mark Inch, director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, resigned on May 18, 2018. At first it was unclear why he stepped down, but The New York Times has since reported that sources told the paper Inch resigned in protest of the role played by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions with respect to proposed federal legislation called the First Step Act.
The First Step Act (H.R. 5682) is currently under consideration by the U.S. Senate after it passed in the House in a 360-59 bipartisan vote on May 22, 2018. It is seen as a small but not insignificant effort at federal prison reform by its proponents, including Jared Kushner, a senior White House adviser and the son-in-law of President Donald Trump. Trump, too, has come out in support of the legislation, though many prisoner advocacy groups have objected to the bill due to several controversial provisions and because it does not go far enough.
Sessions, a “tough on crime” and “law and order” Republican dating back to his days as the state Attorney General for Alabama, also reportedly opposes the legislation. As the overseer of the Bureau of Prisons, an agency of the ...
by Matt Clarke
On September 1, 2017 the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) changed its policy on prisoner discipline to eliminate solitary confinement as a punishment for violating institutional rules, though thousands of prisoners remain in segregation for other reasons.
According to the TDCJ, 76 state prisoners were held in punitive solitary confinement as of July 31, 2017. Under the new policy, they would not be punished by being placed in solitary; instead, prison officials would rely on penalties such as forfeiture of good conduct time and loss of commissary or phone privileges.
“There’s never been any factors that show that [punitive solitary confinement] positively rehabilitates the individual,” stated Lance Lowry, head of the Texas Correctional Employees Union, which represents TDCJ guards.
“I’m quite frankly very surprised and very pleased that they’ve made this move,” added Doug Smith, with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.
The change in disciplinary policy will not impact the vast majority of prisoners held in solitary. The TDCJ has around 3,940 prisoners in administrative segregation due to their gang affiliations, high escape risk, death sentence or ongoing danger to staff or other prisoners. They remain confined to their cells for at least ...
For-profit prison and jail medical contractor Corizon Health agreed to an undisclosed settlement after an Arizona prisoner died from the flu that went untreated for six days.
Manuel Diaz, 31, entered the Arizona Department of Corrections in October 2013 to serve a five-year sentence. At the time he was sent to ASPC-Douglas, it was known that he had tested positive for hepatitis C. Yet despite having a weakened immune system he did not receive a flu shot prior to the 2013-2014 flu season.
Diaz began feeling ill on January 10, 2014. He reported to the infirmary the next day with tingling hands and feet, general body aches, shortness of breath, a fever of over 103 degrees and nausea. Corizon nurse Carla Transue noted he had not received a flu shot and told him to take ibuprofen and drink lots of water.
Over the next three days, Diaz reported to the infirmary in a worsening condition. Nurses Naomi Fimbres, Anna Marie Jensen-Trees and Tansue “did nothing to address the virus ravaging his body.” Rather than provide medical care or test him for the flu, Jensen-Trees gave Diaz an inhaler to help with his breathing.
By January 15, 2014, Diaz “was ...
by Matt Clarke
On January 29, 2018, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held a diabetic prisoner’s allegation that he was denied a medical diet and required to repeatedly eat high-sugar meals during prison lockdowns stated a claim of deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs sufficient to show a likelihood of success on the merits for the purpose of a preliminary injunction.
Carl David Jones, a Texas state prisoner, moved for a preliminary injunction after filing a pro se 42 U.S.C. § 1983 federal civil rights action. He claimed prison officials were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs when, during prison lockdowns, they repeatedly denied him the diet he was prescribed because he has diabetes and had suffered a stroke, and instead gave him high-sugar meals. The motion was denied and Jones appealed.
The Fifth Circuit noted that Jones asserted he had suffered a stroke just before a three-week lockdown. During the lockdown, Food Services Manager Greg Cruise replaced his medical diet with a “sugar-based diet” that caused Jones’ blood sugar level to exceed 500. Seventeen days into the lockdown, he said he experienced a heart attack.
According to Jones, about two months later the prison ...
An employee for TRICOR, Tennessee’s prison industry program, received $80,994 to settle a lawsuit alleging he was forced to teach religious-based classes as part of his duties. The suit alleged First Amendment violations.
Prior to taking a job as the Operations Manager at TRICOR’s wood plant at the Bledsoe ...
by Christopher Zoukis
A federal lawsuit filed by the widow of a man who died after a violent cell extraction at the Midland County jail in Michigan has settled for $500,000. The Midland Daily News reported the settlement was reached following mediation.
Jack Brian Marden was arrested on February ...
by Derek Gilna
A wrongful death suit has been filed in state court in Oldham County, Kentucky by the family of 30-year-old Steven Lee McStoots, who died of suffocation when he was strapped face-down on a mattress in five-point restraints at the Kentucky State Reformatory. McStoots had been forcefully removed from his cell after refusing to take medication; his hands were cuffed behind his back and his ankles shackled to a bed by at least four prison guards.
According to Sam Carl, the family’s attorney, McStoots’ January 16, 2013 death resulted from the use of what he claimed was an outdated and inappropriate restraint technique. Prison officials, however, argued that the mentally-ill McStoots was agitated and in danger of harming himself when he was placed in restraints.
Carl disagreed that McStoots posed a threat. “He had settled down and was not a danger to himself or others at the time he was carried into the cell where he died,” Carl stated. “I don’t know that I’ve seen a case where a person has died on videotape under questionable circumstances and use of restraints [that are] sometimes characterized as cruel and outdated.”
Five-point restraints involve a person being tied ...
by Derek Gilna
Orange County, California’s jail system has been a hotbed of abuses for many years, accumulating a reputation for lawlessness on the part of prisoners and staff members alike. [See: PLN, June 2018, p.28; Jan. 2016, p.29]. The inability of the current Sheriff-Coroner, Sandra Hutchens, to resolve problems at the county’s jails has apparently resulted in her unexpected decision to retire at the end of her term and not seek reelection.
That decision was announced in June 2017, hours after the release of a 108-page report that highlighted unsafe jail conditions and an epidemic of misconduct by staff during Hutchens’ tenure.
According to the ACLU of Southern California, which published the report, “Orange County has the second-largest jail system in California, with an average daily population of approximately 6,000 incarcerated individuals and roughly 64,000 annual bookings. In 2009, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) operated the ninth-largest jail system in the United States.”
The ACLU interviewed over 120 current and former prisoners using written questionnaires and personal interviews. Their findings revealed that “OCSD deputies use force [against prisoners] that is not proportionate to the threat presented in cases where infractions do occur or ...
by David M. Reutter
Virginia’s parole board is changing a policy under which the state’s “three-strikes” law was used to deny parole to 262 prisoners who previously had never been incarcerated before their current charges. The change came on the heels of an investigative report by the Virginian-Pilot, which found that state officials had abused the three-strikes law and “converted young men from first-time offenders to three-strikers in one swift motion.”
In 1982, Virginia passed a three-strikes law to deny parole to anyone convicted of three separate crimes involving murder, rape or robbery with a deadly weapon – with the term “separate” defined as “lacking a common act, transaction or scheme.”
“The idea of a three-strikes law is that you committed a crime, sat in jail and should have realized the wrongs of your ways, but then you go out and do it again,” said Washington, D.C. attorney Evan Werbel, adding that after the third conviction, “the three-strikes law basically says, ‘Enough is enough, and he’s never going to be rehabilitated.’”
Virginia abolished parole in 1995 for the types of crimes covered by the three-strikes law – but it was still used to deny parole ...
by Derek Gilna
Last year, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) paid $105,000 to settle a pair of federal civil rights lawsuits filed by two former employees. Both of the women claimed they were fired in retaliation for their testimony alleging sexual harassment by a supervisor at a state ...
by Matthew Clarke
In June 2017, the Nevada Department of Corrections (DOC) paid $93,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the parents and wife of a mentally-ill prisoner who committed suicide after his psychiatric needs were ignored by DOC staff.
John William Morse IV, 27, was a Nevada state ...
by Derek Gilna
Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) entered into a confidential settlement with the CIA over “a torture program” designed and used against military detainees by two contractors, psychologists James Elmer Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington in October 2015, claimed the defendants created “a torture program with a scientific veneer” – including “enhanced interrogation techniques” like waterboarding, a practice now banned by the CIA.
Plaintiffs Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud argued they suffered “lasting psychological and physical damage from this torture,” to which a third detainee, Gul Rahman, also was subjected before he died. Rahman’s estate was a party to the lawsuit and settlement.
According to the complaint, the three detainees “were subjected to solitary confinement, extreme darkness, cold, and noise; repeated beatings; starvation; excruciatingly painful stress positions; prolonged sleep deprivation; confinement in coffin-like boxes; and water torture.”
The ACLU noted that “all three [plaintiffs] were kidnapped by the CIA, and tortured and experimented upon according to Mitchell and Jessen’s protocols,” and that Rahman had “died as a result of his torture.”
The settlement ...
by Matt Clarke
In October 2017, a $9 million settlement was reached in a lawsuit brought by an Illinois man who spent 15 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. The suit alleged law enforcement officials fabricated a false murder scenario, coerced false confessions and witness statements, and ...
by Christopher Zoukis
In a virtually unheard of ruling, a British appellate court has refused to allow a citizen of the United Kingdom to be extradited to the U.S. to face federal charges. The court found that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) would be unable to humanely and adequately care for Lauri Love, 33, who suffers from a variety of debilitating physical and mental health problems.
Love was indicted in three different jurisdictions on felony hacking and theft charges, for allegedly infiltrating computers at the FBI, NASA, the Federal Reserve and the Department of Defense. He was arrested by British authorities in October 2013 and released on bail. U.S. authorities immediately sought his extradition, which was granted by a trial court and approved by then-Home Secretary Amber Rudd. But before he could be sent across the pond, a British appeals court stepped in and called for a hearing.
Love, who suffers from severe depression, Asperger Syndrome, asthma and eczema, and who has threatened to kill himself if he were extradited, presented evidence of his health conditions as well as expert testimony as to what kind of “treatment” he could expect in the U.S. federal prison system.
Arkansas: On August 7, 2017, for approximately three hours, a group of six prisoners in the Maximum Security Unit at the Tucker facility refused to release three guards they had overpowered and taken hostage by using stolen keys to control the doors in that area of the prison. According to Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves, the guards sustained scrapes, bruises and other minor injuries, and a prisoner who was not involved in the disturbance was somehow injured and transported to a hospital while the situation unfolded. Although Graves said the incident had been resolved and normal operations had resumed, he declined to identify the hostage-takers or release further details.
California: State prisoner Jamie Mardis was shot and killed by guards at CSP Sacramento on October 20, 2017. Investigators said prison staff first tried to break up a fight among four prisoners on the facility’s Recreation Yard B using pepper spray grenades and a warning shot, but the violent brawl continued. Guards then opened fire with a Ruger Mini-14, killing Mardis and critically wounding another unnamed prisoner. The incident was being investigated by the prison’s Investigative Services Unit and the Office of Inspector General was notified. State prison officials sent ...
by Ed Lyon
For over two decades, federal courts have been issuing orders, injunctions and sanctions in an effort to force California’s prison system to provide adequate treatment to mentally ill prisoners. That approach does not appear to be working.
Joseph Damien Duran, 35, died on September 7, 2013 at the Mule Creek State Prison. He was mentally ill and breathed through an opening in his throat. Despite his known mental health condition and breathing problems he was pepper sprayed by guards, resulting in his death. Claiming to be unable to locate his parents for notification, prison officials had him cremated and his ashes scattered at sea. The Amador County coroner reported Duran’s death as a suicide, though prison staff later listed it as “accidental.” [See: PLN, May 2016, p.24].
Former Mule Creek psychologist Eric Reininga leaked documents to bring Duran’s death to the public’s attention – and was fired for doing so. It was only after Reininga spoke with a Sacramento Bee reporter that Duran’s parents were contacted and told of their son’s death. The incident resulted in a federal court reopening a hearing on the mistreatment of mentally ill state prisoners, while Duran’s parents filed a ...