by David M. Reutter
Food plays an integral role in our lives. It not only provides the nutrition necessary to sustain our existence, it feeds the sense of community we all crave. Social bonds are made as we break bread with those who sit and dine with us at the meal table. It may sound trite, but food feeds not just the body but also the soul.
The role of food is more pronounced for prisoners than for those who are not incarcerated. A primary reason for that difference is the fact that prison and jail schedules revolve around meal times. Another is that prisoners are limited to eating the fare provided in the dining hall (commonly called the chow hall or mess hall), or what they can buy from the commissary; they lack the food choices that most people take for granted.
The answer to the question “what’s for chow?” is often determinative of whether a prisoner goes to the dining hall or eats out of his or her own pantry. The latter occurs only if the prisoner has money to buy food items from the commissary or can hustle up something to eat. The poorest prisoners are ...
by Paul Wright
For anyone who has done time, the obscene prices at the prison or jail commissary are always a source of complaint and wonder. Complaint because they are so high, and wonder because they are so untethered from any reasonable level of profit or reality. As this issue’s cover story notes, prices have increased over the years as commissary services have been privatized and taken over by for-profit companies like Keefe, Aramark, Summit and others.
In a normal market context, high prices are generally not an issue because businesses have competition; if their prices are too high, customers will buy elsewhere. Not so in prisons and jails where, as with other forms of financial exploitation (including phones, video calling, money transfers, e-messaging, etc.), privately-run commissaries rely on government-granted monopoly contracts with no competition to ensure prisoners can be ruthlessly price-gouged. In exchange, the companies usually kick back a percentage of their revenue to the contracting corrections agency – the same model used in the prison phone industry.
These practices have grown and worsened over the past two decades with the rise of a police state premised on the notion of paying for itself on the backs of the ...
by Edward B. Lyon, Jr.
The Cumberland County jail in Bridgeton, New Jersey, parts of which are nearly 80 years old, is scheduled for replacement in 2020. Meanwhile, the facility has been plagued with a high prisoner suicide rate and staff misconduct. From July 2014 to May 2017, four male and two female prisoners hanged themselves, their bodies later found hanging in the infirmary, the showers or their cells.
The People’s Organization for Progress and the American Friends Service Committee’s Prison Watch Program have called for an investigation into conditions at the jail. New Jersey’s Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers put its request for an investigation into a petition to the state Attorney General’s office.
“Individuals in custody – and their loved ones – have a reasonable expectation that they will be appropriately monitored, screened and secured while they remain in custody. That is especially true for those who have not been convicted and are being held on bail awaiting trial,” the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers wrote.
In February 2017, Richard Smith, a 25-year veteran of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, was appointed the new warden to oversee the Cumberland County jail. Eight more cells were designated ...
by Steve Horn
It’s an even-numbered year, which makes sense because, as is the norm, what’s going on in our nation’s capital is anything but odd. That is, big money once again is flowing into Congressional campaign coffers from corporate interests, aiming to influence the 2018 midterm elections. And as usual, well-compensated federal lobbying continues apace. Of course that happens in the odd-numbered years too, perhaps even more so because federal lawmakers are not as busy on the campaign trail.
A review and analysis of federal lobbying disclosure records by Prison Legal News revealed that private prison companies GEO Group, CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) and Management & Training Corporation (MTC) spent at least $812,500 to lobby federal officials during the first quarter of 2018. And they’ve hired a cast of lobbyists who have passed through the government-industry revolving door – many of them former senior-level congressional staffers, White House staffers, members of Congress and officials with close ties to President Donald Trump – to get the job done.
Private prison firms have also showered Congressional candidates with campaign donations in the run-up to the November midterm elections, giving more than $360,000 thus far through their political ...
A settlement agreement has been reached that improves the conditions of confinement for pregnant women held at the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The agreement ends the routine placement of pregnant prisoners into solitary confinement.
The civil rights complaint, filed in December 2016, named five plaintiffs – all pregnant women who were subjected to solitary confinement or deprived of adequate food to meet their nutritional needs. ACJ’s practice was to put pregnant prisoners in solitary for extended periods of time “based upon allegations of minor, non-violent offenses,” the complaint stated.
For example, plaintiff Jill Hendricks spent nine days in segregation “for possession of a library book” that contained pictures and envelopes placed there by another prisoner who had previously borrowed the book. Plaintiff Merisha Tuzlic spent 11 days in solitary for possessing three pairs of shoes instead of two.
Solitary conditions at ACJ were harsh and gave no regard to the needs of pregnant women. Tuzlic served another stint in solitary that lasted 22 days. During that period she was allowed to shower only twice, was not allowed any of her personal items such as writing materials or books, and no out-of-cell recreation or exercise was offered ...
by Matthew Clarke
On August 26, 2017, Benjamin Davis, 42, the founder and leader of a white supremacist prison gang called the 211 Crew, was found hanging in his cell at the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins. Davis was suspected of having ordered the 2013 murder of Tom Clements, director of Colorado’s Department of Corrections (DOC), though no evidence established a direct link between the gang and Clements’ death.
Clements was killed by Evan Ebel, 28, a 211 Crew member who had been released early due to a clerical error after serving a stint in solitary confinement. In March 2013, Ebel first murdered pizza delivery driver Nathan Leon and stole his car and uniform. He then drove to Clements’ home in Monument, near Denver, and fatally shot him. Ebel fled south into Texas, where he was killed in a shootout with law enforcement officers. [See: PLN, July 2014, p.1].
According to a 2016 Texas Rangers report, Davis is believed to have ordered Clements’ assassination. Police also found DNA from a third murder victim on a pipe bomb discovered in the trunk of Ebel’s car. They arrested six other members of the 211 Crew based on Ebel’s text and phone ...
by David Reutter
A federal lawsuit filed in October 2017 accuses an Arkansas-based drug rehab center of “human trafficking and forced labor” for abusing a court-ordered pre-trial diversion program. The rehab center reportedly compelled defendants to provide cheap labor for welding companies, chicken processing plants and manufacturers – including a plastics firm owned by state Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren.
The Drug and Alcohol Recovery Program (DARP) is supposed to provide substance abuse treatment as an alternative to prison. Courts in both Arkansas and Oklahoma send defendants to DARP, with a stern warning that failure to complete the program will result in jail or prison time. [See: PLN, Jan. 2018, p.8].
With a second facility in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, DARP enrolls as many as 80 men at any given time, who work for no pay. Founder Raymond Jones and Pastor Glenn E. Whitman, who run the non-profit, were named as defendants in the suit. In addition to Hendren’s company, Hendren Plastics, Inc., DARP provided workers to R&R Engineering, Inc., Western Alliance, Inc. (formerly known as Jer-Co Industries, Inc.) and Simmons Foods, Inc. Those companies were also named in the lawsuit.
“This forced labor scheme was developed by defendant Raymond Jones ...
by Ed Lyon
Early on January 1, 2017, Tristan Hermanson was with a woman in his apartment in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Two men entered, assaulted him and stole money and his cell phone. The woman, Elizabeth Navarro, seemed to be working with the robbers. Hermanson was able to escape and ...
by Matthew Clarke
The family of a prisoner who died at the Bi-State Jail in Texarkana has filed a federal civil rights suit alleging his death resulted from inadequate medical care.
The jail is unique in that it straddles the border of Texas and Arkansas in a city that spreads out over four counties in two states. The 164-bed facility, opened in 1985, is run by a for-profit company, LaSalle Corrections, and used by law enforcement agencies in both Texas and Arkansas.
On July 19, 2015, Michael Sabbie, 35, was arrested on suspicion of verbal assault, a Class C misdemeanor, in Texarkana, Arkansas after he had an argument with his wife during which he allegedly threatened her. He was booked into the jail.
During the intake process, Sabbie told a nurse he had heart trouble, diabetes, mental illness, a communicable disease, asthma and hypertension, and reported he had suffered from congestive heart failure. He also complained of shortness of breath and told the nurse he had pneumonia prior to his arrest. [See: PLN, Dec. 2016, p.43].
Sabbie’s complaints about shortness of breath continued over the next two days. He was seen twice by nurses, but sent away without treatment ...
by Ed Lyon
Psychiatrist Anthony Coppola, employed in California’s prison system, was a warden’s dream employee. He often worked overtime and on his days off when his primary job at a prison in Tracy, California was short staffed. As a result of his hard work, he amassed a huge backlog of vacation time.
State employees are allowed to “bank” their leave, or vacation time, and cash it out when they retire. Banked leave can accumulate to six-figure amounts in some cases. Coppola, 53, chose to reduce his accumulated leave by scheduling several days off each week at the prison, then used that time to work at the Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County. His combined income for 2016 was $542,000 – $309,000 from his state job and $233,000 from the county.
Such double-dipping by having two jobs is not a prohibited practice. A San Francisco Bee investigation found nearly 900 other prison health care professionals had permission to work two or more jobs, including 89 who were employed by two state agencies.
“It was approved. He didn’t do it on his own,” said Coppola’s attorney, Brian Crone. “He went through his chief of mental health. The ...
by Steve Horn
The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the parent organization of Prison Legal News, obtained a civil judgment in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina in a lawsuit filed against the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office, after accepting an offer of judgment from ...
by Matt Clarke
An Austin, Texas couple wrongly convicted of sexually abusing a child at the day-care center they ran in the 1990s has been declared innocent and received over $3.4 million in compensation from the state.
Starting in the 1980s, the United States experienced an episode of mass hysteria now known as “Satanic Panic,” during which it was widely believed that Satanists had infiltrated the child-care industry and were sexually abusing children, brainwashing them and using them in satanic rituals. The first large-scale prosecution of alleged day care Satanists was the McMartin Preschool case in California. One of the last was that of Austin, Texas couple Dan and Frances “Fran” Keller, who both spent 21 years in prison.
The Kellers were convicted of sexually assaulting a three-year-old girl in 1992 and sentenced to 48 years. In 2015, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned their convictions because the physician who gave the only scientific evidence against them at trial realized he was mistaken.
During a 2013 hearing, emergency room doctor Michael Mouw testified he was wrong when he testified at the Kellers’ trial that tears he found in the girl’s hymen indicated sexual abuse. Years later, he ...
by Derek Gilna
U.S. District Court Judge Staci M. Yandle, in the Southern District of Illinois, ruled on May 22, 2018 that a civil rights suit filed by Mickey Mason, incarcerated at the Menard Correctional Center in southern Illinois, could go forward. Mason had filed his complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that a group of guards at the prison known as “Orange Crush” purposely took his legal papers during a cell shakedown, depriving him of the opportunity to prepare a post-conviction motion.
PLN previously reported on “Orange Crush,” a prison tactical team equipped with orange jumpsuits, body armor, riot helmets, clubs and pepper spray. Abusive searches and beatings conducted by the team have resulted in a number of lawsuits, including a 2015 case filed by the Uptown People’s Law Center and the law firm of Loevy & Loevy. [See: PLN, Feb. 2017, p.58].
In Mason’s suit, the district court wrote, “According to the allegations of the First Amended Complaint, C/O Meyers and three unknown officers (John Doe 1, John Doe 2, John Doe 3, and John Doe 4) entered Plaintiff’s cell and removed his personal property without his consent on August 3 ...
The Linn County Sheriff’s Office has agreed to settle a wrongful death claim filed by the estate of a woman who died while imprisoned at the Oregon county’s jail.
In November 2014, Samantha Jeanne Robinson, 42, was sick with bacterial pneumonia and missed an appointment in drug court. She had ...
A prisoner who was attacked by his co-defendant at the Crawford County Correctional Facility (CCCF) in Saegertown, Pennsylvania agreed to a $5,000 settlement in his failure-to-protect suit.
Harry W. Boyer, Jr. was arrested on a probation violation for new criminal charges on August 16, 2012. The day after his ...
by David Reutter
Alabama’s prison murder rate, already the nation’s worst, is on the rise – along with an increase in assaults that do not end in fatalities, as well as prisoner suicides. Prison officials agree that the root problems – mainly overcrowding and understaffing – are correctable. But the state has not fully addressed those problems.
Nationally, about five of every 100,000 prisoners are murdered and another 16 commit suicide. In Alabama the number of prison homicides is over 30 per 100,000 – six times the national average and twice that of the next-highest state – while the number of suicides has risen to 37 per 100,000, more than twice the national rate.
In 2017, a federal district court found the Alabama Department of Corrections (DOC) had failed to provide prisoners with constitutionally sufficient mental health care, calling it “horrendously inadequate.” As with the homicide rate, the court found the DOC’s “skyrocketing suicide rate” was due to preventable factors that had not been addressed by prison officials due to a “culture of cynicism towards prisoners.”
In October 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation into all DOC facilities housing male prisoners ...
by Abbie Vansickle, The Marshall Project
As the judge climbed the watchtower stairs in Pelican Bay prison, he heard muffled gunshots below. When he reached the top, he looked into the prison yard and saw bodies lying in the dirt. One was his law clerk, spread-eagled on the ground in his suit, alongside dozens of prisoners. Guards stood over them, guns aimed.
“My clerk was thinking he’s gonna die and this is his last day on earth,” Judge Thelton Henderson recalled.
What appeared to be the taming of a riot was actually an audacious performance, staged by the guards to impress upon the judge that prison was a dangerous place, best left alone by meddling outsiders.
That prison pageant in September 1993 was a tacit acknowledgement of the power one extraordinary judge held over California’s prison system. During his 37 years on the bench, Henderson did more than anyone to transform California’s notoriously overcrowded prisons into a great experiment in second chances.
Now, newly retired and stricken by an autoimmune disease, the judge is watching the first serious backlash to his legacy. A campaign led by law enforcement organizations is gathering support for a measure on the November ballot ...
by Matt Clarke
In August 2017, a lawsuit brought by a woman who was pepper sprayed at the Montgomery County jail in Dayton, Ohio – despite being held in a restraint chair – settled for $375,000.
Amber Swink was 24 years old when police received a domestic disturbance call ...
by Matthew Clarke
Over a decade ago, with the promise of cost savings as well as stable jobs for the community, local governments in Texas agreed to issue bonds to finance the construction of prisons and jails operated by for-profit companies. But when state and federal authorities stopped sending enough prisoners for the facilities to break even, the companies pulled out of their deals, leaving cities and counties with empty jails and debt payments on the bonds sold to finance them.
In 2007, Burnett County, Texas issued $40 million in municipal bonds to build a new jail. A private operator, Louisiana-based LaSalle Southwest Corrections, was awarded a contract to operate the facility for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), which used it to house prisoners enrolled in a drug treatment program. LaSalle also signed a deal with the U.S. Marshals Service to hold some of its prisoners.
But the company lost $4 million on the deal. LaSalle had also been cited for failure to provide adequate healthcare in 2009, and for failing a security review in 2014. It pulled out in 2014, just five years after the facility opened, and the TDCJ sent its prisoners elsewhere. But the ...
by David M. Reutter
A Florida juvenile offender who was beaten and raped by other prisoners as a guard stood by and watched has received a $60,000 settlement from the state.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Florida imprisons more children in adult prisons than any ...
by Matthew Clarke
Soon after he was sworn in as sheriff for Maricopa County, Arizona, Paul Penzone began phasing out the infamous Tent City jail erected by his predecessor, Joe Arpaio, who was found guilty of criminal contempt by a federal court in July 2017 but later pardoned by President Trump. [See: PLN, Nov. 2017, p.42].
The final prisoner transport out of the Tent City jail occurred on October 7, 2017, but another Tent City, this one maintained at the Arizona State Prison (ASP) complex in Florence, remains in use.
The Tent City jail in Maricopa County, comprised of Korean war-era military tents, reportedly cost just $80,000 to build in August 1993, and Sheriff Penzone said closing it will save taxpayers about $4.5 million per year in operating expenses. Prisoners who were housed in the tents were moved to other county jail facilities.
“This facility is not a crime deterrent, it’s not cost-efficient and it’s not tough on criminals,” Penzone stated.
The ASP Tent City, also known as the North Unit, is controversial because it exposes up to 400 minimum-security prisoners to excessive heat, as the canvas tents are windowless and painted white.
“It felt as ...
by Monte McCoin
PLN previously reported the January 2016 grand jury indictments of former Morgan County, Tennessee jail guard Joe D. Shoffner, Jr. and fellow jailers Garren Austin Luke Cooper and Michael Alan Lloyd for their roles in an incident in which a prisoner was assaulted. [See: PLN, April 2016, p.63].
Shoffner, Cooper and Lloyd had been investigated by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation after information developed that the trio had improperly tried to restrain a prisoner on December 12, 2015, and the incident escalated to an excessive level of force. In addition to Shoffner’s felony official misconduct charge, all three guards were initially charged with assault. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss the counts against Cooper and Lloyd in an August 2016 plea deal, leaving Shoffner alone to face criminal charges stemming from the incident.
On February 9, 2018, jurors wrapped up a two-day trial by convicting Shoffner of both felony official misconduct and a reduced single misdemeanor count of “extreme provocative contact” against a prisoner. No details about his March 2018 sentencing were available.
Sources: www.wbir.com, www.morgancountynews.net
by Christopher Zoukis
Post-9/11, the demand for highly-trained explosives investigators has grown significantly; law enforcement agencies nationwide have hurried to recruit officers who have received specialized training in the detection of bombs and accelerants. And in an ironic twist, prisoners play a central role in the training of this new breed of investigator.
That is, bomb-sniffing dogs.
Puppies Behind Bars (PBB), a nonprofit founded in 1997, trains prisoners to raise both service dogs and explosive detection dogs. The future K9 officers enter prison at the age of eight weeks and live with their prisoner-trainer for about two years. According to the PBB’s website, the program “gives inmates the opportunity to contribute to society rather than take from it, and lets law enforcement see that inmates are capable of doing something positive for the community.”
A news article recently profiled PBB graduate and ATF K9 agent Oscar. Oscar, who by all accounts is a good boy, was raised by a federal prisoner in Ohio. He then went on to complete an intensive 12-week training program at the ATF’s National Canine Center in Front Royal, Virginia. Oscar is now an accelerant detection dog, partnered with ATF agent Mills.
“He’s incredible ...
by Panagioti Tsolkas
What was intended as a state-of-the-art, $32 million prison water treatment plant has turned into yet another state infrastructure boondoggle. Since the plant’s completion in 2010, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) Deuel Vocational Institution, which uses brackish wells on its grounds, is supposed to run the water through a two-step treatment process before it reaches 2,300 prisoners and 1,000 corrections employees.
According to a July 2018 news report, the prison’s water plant in the town of Tracy has spent much of its life offline, requiring bottled water to be provided at the Deuel facility. Since October 2017 alone, the prison spent around $417,000 on bottled water.
The problem is not a new one. Like other prisoners across the country, those held at Deuel had been complaining about the taste and color of the water, seemingly without recourse, until a state environmental agency finally stepped in.
Deuel opened in 1953 and has been expanded several times since then. It serves primarily as a reception center, though it also houses California Prison Industry Authority slave labor programs, including a furniture fabrication plant, a farm where cattle grain is grown and a 1,200-cow ...
by Monte McCoin
Brent Soucier was hired as a prison guard by the then-North Carolina Department of Correction in 1997. Only four months earlier, he had been fired from his job as a guard in Vermont after being convicted of assault for holding a cocked semi-automatic handgun against a man’s head so hard that it made his ear bleed. A 2013 lawsuit previously reported by PLN included allegations levied against Soucier by eight prisoners at the Central Prison, who claimed he beat them while they were handcuffed in areas not covered by video cameras. [See: PLN, Apr. 2018, p.14].
According to court records cited by TV station WRAL, Soucier, 44, has been named in at least six federal lawsuits that claim he violated prisoners’ rights. Two of those cases are pending, three were dismissed and a sixth settled. In one of the pending cases, Soucier is accused of “attacking inmates in full restraints, breaking their arms, punching them in the face, and pretending the inmate provoked the assault.”
On June 19, 2018, Soucier, who is currently employed as a unit manager at the Central Prison, was beaten and stabbed with homemade weapons by prisoners Jaquan Lane, 23, and ...
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held on November 21, 2017 that a federal prisoner remains in the custody of the U.S. Attorney General despite being held on behalf of state officials.
Bud Ray Brown was serving a 15-year federal sentence for possession of a firearm when the State of Washington obtained a writ of habeas corpus ad prosequendum to transfer him from a prison in Virginia to the Spokane County Jail (SCJ) to face a first-degree murder charge.
On August 20, 2015, persons outside the SCJ observed a rope hanging from the window of Brown’s cell. Neither Brown nor his cellmate, James Henrickson, was immediately charged with attempted escape. During Henrickson’s federal trial, the government admitted the escape attempt as evidence of Henrickson’s guilty conscience. In response, Henrickson’s counsel entered a handwritten declaration from Brown that stated he, not Henrickson, “had been plotting an escape for some time” and was responsible for causing damage to the cell window.
Two months later, Brown was indicted on an attempted escape charge in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 751(a). He moved to dismiss, arguing lack of jurisdiction – since he “was not in federal custody at the time ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Three former California jail guards were convicted of second-degree murder for fatally beating a mentally ill prisoner who suffered what prosecutors called an “agonizing and painful” death. In January 2018, the three men were each sentenced to 15 years to life in state prison.
The guards, Jereh Lubrin, Matt Farris and Rafael Rodriguez, were prosecuted for beating Michael Tyree to death while he was held at the Santa Clara County Jail. [See: PLN, Aug. 2017, p.34; Jan. 2017, p.48]. Tyree, who had bipolar disorder, was attacked and killed by Lubrin, Farris and Rodriquez on August 26, 2015 while awaiting an open bed at a psychiatric facility. The guards attempted to explain injuries to Tyree’s spleen, small bowel, face, skull, liver, and front and back sides of his body as resulting from an accidental fall.
The jury thought otherwise.
Shannon Tyree wrote in a statement for the court that her brother’s death was especially painful because his paranoid delusions turned out to be not delusional at all.
“When he would tell me people were after him, including me, I would dismiss it as delusional and paranoia and tell him no one was after him,” she ...
by Monte McCoin
On March 30, 2018, D. Michael Dunavant, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, announced that Quenton Irwin White, who previously served as U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee during the Clinton administration and also as head of the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) between 2003 and 2005, had been sentenced to prison for stealing from clients he represented as a private attorney between 2013 and 2016.
“Mr. White used his privilege to practice law and a position of fiduciary trust to commit crimes of fraud and dishonesty that victimized vulnerable black farmers and their families for his own selfish personal gain,” Dunavant stated.
White pleaded guilty to keeping settlement funds intended for the estates of three black farmers who had won a class-action lawsuit for racial discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The district court ordered him to pay $141,000 in restitution to the victims and serve two years of supervised release after serving one year and a day in federal prison.
White was disbarred by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2016 due to the scandal; he had previously been the subject of controversy when he ...
by Derek Gilna
Dothan, Alabama pastor and non-profit director Kenneth Glasgow, 52, has been charged with capital murder in a controversial case where another man with whom he was driving fatally shot a woman who allegedly stole the other man’s car. Glasgow has condemned the charge as excessive and moved to have it dismissed.
Glasgow, an activist in the Dothan area for decades and the half-brother of civil rights activist Al Sharpton, founded and directs The Ordinary People Society (T.O P.S). According to its website, T.O.P.S. “is an innovative, faith-based community program founded in 1999” that “works with the most disenfranchised members of our community that others exclude,” including the homeless and former prisoners.
Dothan police officials said Glasgow was in a car with Jamie Townes, 26, the alleged shooter, when they were driving around looking for Townes’ stolen vehicle. Glasgow claimed he did not know Townes had a gun and did not participate in the fatal shooting of Breunia Jennings, 23, who had allegedly taken Townes’ car. The incident occurred on March 25, 2018.
“I don’t know why I am facing capital murder charges,” Glasgow stated. “I’m not responsible for what someone ...
by Christopher Zoukis
On August 10, 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers dismissed four related class-action lawsuits in which prisoners challenged the rates and commission kickbacks associated with jail phone service contracts.
A group of attorneys representing California prisoners held in San Mateo, Santa Clara, Contra Costa and Alameda counties filed class-action complaints alleging that the cost of phone calls at those facilities violated the First Amendment, the Fifth Amendment’s unlawful takings provision, the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause and Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act.
The plaintiffs said county officials contracted with prison and jail telecom firms Global Tel*Link and Securus Technologies, which charged “unreasonable, unjust and exorbitant rates” for phone calls made by prisoners, then kicked back “extortionate and outrageous ‘commissions’” to the county jails.
Under President Obama, the Federal Communications Commission took decisive action to reduce prison and jail phone rates; thus far in President Trump’s administration, however, the FCC has taken a hands-off approach to the prison telecom industry and refused to defend its own order capping intrastate (in-state) rates. [See: PLN, July 2017, p.52].
Phone calls from county jails can be extremely expensive, reaching over $1.00 per minute ...
by Derek Gilna
Edward George Carter and Marwin McHenry, both wrongfully convicted and imprisoned in separate cases, have obtained compensation awards from the Michigan Court of Claims. Carter was awarded $1,761,506.85, while McHenry received $175,753.42.
Carter was tried and convicted in 1975 for a sexual ...
by Monte McCoin
On January 15, 2018, the Anchorage Daily News reported that, from 2012 to 2016, confidential conversations between criminal defendants and their attorneys were routinely recorded by a long-abandoned audio monitoring system in a visitation room at the Anchorage Correctional Complex (ACC).
Clare Sullivan, deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Corrections (ADOC), explained that recording equipment was installed in the room at the request of the FBI in 2012, specifically to monitor interviews with suspected serial killer Israel Keyes – a high-profile prisoner who later committed suicide. After Keyes’ death, according to Sullivan, jail staff “simply forgot about” the recording devices, which continued to capture audio continuously, taping over old files every 30 days until the system was “rediscovered” and disabled four years later, in November 2016.
“Once it was discovered that the recordings potentially contained audio, the criminal investigators immediately segregated those recordings, did not listen to them, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office immediately alerted counsel for the Department of Corrections, who removed that capability,” said Anchorage District Attorney Rick Allen’s office.
Erin Gonzalez-Powell is one of many outraged regional defense lawyers who remain skeptical that the practice has, in fact, ended. “If [the ...
by Derek Gilna
A Canadian non-profit organization, Evolve Our Prison Farms (EOPF), has come out in opposition to the Canadian government’s plan, announced in early 2018, to reinstitute prison farms that will include the slaughter of livestock. A total of $4.3 million over five years was authorized to recommence dairy operations in Correctional Service Canada facilities in Kingston, Ontario.
Previously, prisoners carried out “artificially impregnating cows, separating calves from their mothers, and sending cows and calves off to slaughter,” according to Livekindly.com, a vegan website. “Further, some prisoners were trained at onsite slaughterhouses, one of which is still in operation.”
EOPF, which is strongly against the prison dairy proposal, has advocated that prisoners instead be trained in a wholly plant-based operation. According to EOPF founder Calvin Neufeld, “Teaching prisoners to exploit and slaughter animals is neither therapeutic nor rehabilitative. A plant-based model is said to teach responsibility and empathy without the exploitation of animals.”
Neufeld also noted that plant-based farming operations use less energy, are better for the environment and healthier for consumers. He supports caring for animals through a sanctuary model of prisoner-animal therapy, rather than raising them for slaughter.
Although prison officials argued that ...
by Monte McCoin
On March 19, 2018, former Indian Creek Correctional Center assistant warden Clyde Alderman, 68, entered an Alford plea to three misdemeanor counts of solicitation. By entering the plea, Alderman, without admitting guilt, agreed that prosecutors had enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt he had repeatedly given special privileges to a prisoner in exchange for oral sex. He had originally been indicted in October 2017 on three felony counts of carnal knowledge of a prisoner.
A stipulation of evidence included with court filings detailed three occasions between December 2016 and June 30, 2017 when prosecutors said Alderman granted a male prisoner special employment and housing assignments after calling him to his office to perform sexual favors.
Although it was unclear whether Alderman was allowed to retire from his $67,756 per year Department of Corrections position or if he was terminated, Gregory Carter, a DOC spokesman, confirmed to the Richmond Times-Dispatch that Alderman’s last day at the prison was July 5, 2017.
According to Alderman’s attorney, Andrew Page, the former prison official took the plea “because he did not want to put his family through the hardships associated with a three-day jury trial.” The reduced ...
by David R. Bailey
Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Scott Crichton’s self-recusal from hearing “Angola 5” David Brown’s death penalty appeal ensured that Brown’s due process rights would not be compromised. Brown feared he could not receive a fair review by the state Supreme Court following Crichton’s comments made during a radio interview.
Brown was already serving a life sentence for murder when he participated in a December 28, 1999 escape attempt from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola that resulted in the death of Captain David Knapps. Brown and other prisoners incapacitated Knapps and dragged him to a staff bathroom, where he was killed. One of the prisoners who tried to escape, Joel Durham, was fatally shot by guards. [See: PLN, April 2000, p.10].
In 2011, Brown, one of five prisoners charged with first-degree murder, was convicted for his role in the incident and sentenced to death.
On appeal, retired Judge Jerome Winsberg upheld Brown’s murder conviction but vacated his death sentence. The judge explained that prisoner Richard Dominigue had provided a statement claiming that fellow prisoner Barry Edge had confessed to a plan solely between Edge and prisoner Jeffrey Clark to kill Knapps. That statement may have changed ...
On November 17, 2017, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit brought under Georgia’s renewal statute because the plaintiff failed to pay the costs from a prior case or seek in forma pauperis (IFP) status when filing the new suit.
While incarcerated at the Hall County Detention Center in 2011, Yasund Q. Hancock filed a civil rights action alleging that guards repeatedly struck him with a metal flashlight and sprayed him with pepper spray while uttering racial slurs. Being indigent, Hancock sought and was granted IFP status by a federal magistrate.
He was released on June 3, 2011, and reapplied for IFP status. His motion was granted and he was informed he did not have to pay an additional filing fee to proceed. His suit was subsequently dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies and as being barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). Hancock was denied IFP status on appeal because the district court and the Eleventh Circuit found his appeal was frivolous; it was dismissed for failure to prosecute after Hancock failed to pay the filing fee.
On September 5, 2014, Hancock returned to federal court by filing his complaint ...
by Monte McCoin
On May 8, 2018, the City Council in Tucson, Arizona passed a historic resolution by unanimous vote that prohibits “contracting with private, for-profit prison companies like GEO Group or CoreCivic (formerly CCA) for jail operations.” City Councilmember Regina Romero, who spearheaded the passage of the resolution alongside Tucson Vice Mayor Paul Cunningham, noted that “Profit should never be motivation for our justice system.”
The Tucson resolution closely followed a similar measure passed in December 2017 by the Board of Supervisors in Pima County, Arizona, and appears to follow a growing trend among municipalities to reject correctional privatization.
King County, Washington was one of the first jurisdictions to ban privately-operated facilities; the county passed legislation in August 2017 that prohibits contracts between the county and private prison firms to house either adult or juvenile detainees. [See: PLN, Sept. 2017, p.29]. And in April 2018, the Indianapolis City-County Council proactively prohibited privatization of the city’s yet-to-open new criminal justice center and jail with an ordinance that also dissolves the city’s current contract with CoreCivic when the old jail closes.
“No function of our government is more serious than when it deprives people of liberty,” said ...
by Derek Gilna
How do you calculate the cost of years of your life – lost forever – when you are behind bars for a crime you didn’t commit, while knowing that those who put you there perverted the criminal justice system to do so? For Frank O’Connell of Los ...
by Derek Gilna
A federal class-action suit filed on April 17, 2018 in the Middle District of Georgia accuses private prison behemoth CoreCivic – formerly Corrections Corporation of America – of exploiting immigrant detainees who perform work in the company’s ICE detention facilities, specifically at the Stewart Detention Center in central Georgia.
The complaint alleges violations of state and federal labor laws. According to one of the attorneys representing the proposed class, Azadeh Shahshahani, legal director for Project South, “CoreCivic is exploiting the labor of detained immigrants to enrich itself. It must be stopped.”
CoreCivic, the largest private prison operator in the U.S., has been the target of numerous lawsuits in states where it maintains detention facilities for inadequate medical treatment and employee misconduct, and has been fined millions of dollars by various government agencies for contract violations. Prison Legal News has extensively covered these various scandals, which include the common threads of cutting corners and exploiting prisoners in order to increase profits.
Although legal precedent does not uniformly restrict corrections officials from compelling healthy prisoners to work, the complaint notes that the legal status of detained immigrants is different: “Immigration violations are civil violations, and immigration detention ...
by Joseph Margulies, Justia.com
Recently, the president called for the execution of drug dealers. This is idiotic, of course, both as a matter of law and policy. But no one who has been following these things should have been particularly surprised. The president says all sorts of stupid things, and since his election, he and his attorney general have done their level best to convince us that we are in the midst of a new crime wave. Be afraid. Be very afraid. And to meet the fear they would have us feel, they have tried to drum up support for yet another war on crime. Apparently, the president believes that making America great involves sending a helluva lot more people to prison (and Death Row) for a helluva long time.
Because he has been so transparent about his love for all things carceral, and because he is so exceedingly popular in so many places, many people – myself included – wondered whether his rhetoric would derail the movement for criminal justice reform that has been gathering steam since the early years of the 21st century. I watched the state of play over the last fourteen months or so, but ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Does “tough on crime” President Donald J. Trump support prison reform? If his comments at a January 2018 listening session can be believed, the answer is a qualified “yes” – qualified because his focus is mainly on reentry services, not on prison conditions or sentencing reform.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, has spearheaded the administration’s prison reform efforts. Kushner has a personal interest in this area; his father, Charles Kushner, spent 14 months in federal prison after being convicted of accepting illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion and witness tampering. According to CNN, Jared Kushner has held several listening sessions involving key criminal justice stakeholders.
The January 2018 session included Kushner, Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and several prison reform experts. A roundtable discussion was held with input from everyone, including Trump, who referred to prison reform as “very important” and a “very big topic.”
“The vast majority of incarcerated individuals will be released at some point and often struggle to become self-sufficient once they exit the correctional system,” he said. “We have a great interest in helping them turn their lives around, get a second ...
by Monte McCoin
On May 2, 2018, attorneys with Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), the Legal Services Center at Harvard Law School and the law firm of Bailey & Glasser LLP filed a lawsuit against Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson and Securus Technologies, Inc., alleging the county jail’s phone contract with Securus constitutes an illegal kickback scheme.
“The excessive costs that are imposed on families by these payments are unlawful attempts to exploit vulnerable Massachusetts prisoners by commercializing their contact with the outside world,” said NCLC attorney Brian Highsmith.
According to court documents, between August 2011 and June 2013, Hodgson’s office collected $1.7 million in commission kickbacks from Securus. The telecom company paid the Sheriff’s Office a lump sum of $820,000 to cover 2016 through 2020.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs claim Hodgson and Securus are violating state consumer protection laws.
“What consumers are being charged has no relationship to the actual cost of providing phone service,” said Bonnie Tenneriello, a staff attorney with Prisoners’ Legal Services. In comparison to a call from a Massachusetts state prison at $0.10 per minute with no fee for the first minute, a ...
by Derek Gilna
In 1997, Temple University professor Lori Pompa instituted a ground-breaking program at a Philadelphia county jail known as the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, which brings university students and prisoners together in a correctional setting to discuss criminal justice and other academic issues. From that modest start, the program has expanded to 150 jails and prisons worldwide, involving more than 30,000 participants on the inside and outside.
Temple participants gathered in October 2017 for a celebration of the program’s 20-year milestone, in events held at both the university and Graterford Prison. Professor Pompa thinks the program has had an impact in terms of educating the general public about the bloated U.S. corrections system, stating, “Our levels of incarceration have to some extent been allowed to get so out of control because the vast majority of people don’t know what’s happening. It’s how change happens in the world, it’s almost one person at a time. So we’re multiplying those persons.”
Pompas’ first job within the prison system was as a tutor at the now-closed Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia; she later taught classes about corrections, and brought students to tour the facility and interact with prisoners.
“It was very ...
by Derek Gilna
New York state prisoner David Sweat became famous – or rather infamous – when he and fellow prisoner Richard W. Matt escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York in 2015. The pair led authorities on a three-week search through the rural area, known for its dense pine forests, until Sweat was shot and recaptured, and Matt was killed. [See: PLN, Sept. 2017, p.63; Jan. 2017, p.26; Feb. 2016, p.63].
The escape and manhunt focused unwanted attention on security shortcomings, not only at the Clinton facility but also at other state prisons as journalists probed for details. Sweat, who was already serving a life sentence, received an additional three-to-seven years for the escape.
“Who wants to spend their life in here? I didn’t do it to be famous.... I did it to get out of this madness. I wanted to start a new life,” Sweat said in a book about the incident, Wild Escape, written by Chelsia Rose Marcius and released on February 27, 2018.
Transferred to the Security Housing Unit at the Five Points Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in upstate New York, Sweat began looking for deficiencies in its ...
by Matthew Clarke
In August 2017, the Indiana Department of Correction (DOC) agreed to settle a prisoner’s conditions of confinement lawsuit after he alleged DOC officials had retaliated against him for filing the complaint.
Robert L. Holleman, an Indiana state prisoner, filed a pro se federal civil rights suit complaining ...
by Dale Chappell
For thousands of federal prisoners who have filed for compassionate release after the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) expanded eligibility criteria in 2013, the response has been a familiar and consistent refrain: “Denied.” Over the following four years, just six percent of compassionate release requests were approved out of 5,400 filed. Of the prisoners who made those requests, 266 died while awaiting an answer.
Congress created the compassionate release process in 1984, the same year it voted to abolish parole, to provide early release to federal prisoners with “extraordinary and compelling” circumstances. When it found the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) was rarely granting compassionate release – over a six-year period beginning in 2007, not one non-medical request was granted – Congress expanded the criteria to “broaden” the scope for prisoners eligible for relief.
Regardless, the BOP has refused to grant relief in most cases, though it recently granted early release to a convicted state lawmaker under questionable circumstances. [See: PLN, Mar. 2018, p.61; Dec. 2014, p.50]. One of the BOP’s oldest prisoners, Carlos Tapia-Ponce, 94, had his compassionate release request denied due to the severity of his crime, which involved cocaine trafficking. He ...
by R. Bailey
Prisoners and their families in York County, Pennsylvania are outraged that Global Tel*Link (GTL), one of the nation’s largest prison and jail telephone service providers, has contracted with the York County Prison under a “commission” arrangement that provides kickbacks to the county through inflated phone rates.
At least 11 states have prohibited telecom companies from paying commissions to their departments of corrections, since commission-based contracts result in higher rates that are an unfair burden on prisoners’ family members. [See: PLN, Dec. 2013, p.1]. Pennsylvania state prisons charge $0.06 per minute for phone calls.
Records obtained by The York Dispatch, as reported in September 2017, indicate the $0.25 per minute charged by GTL at the York County Prison, “plus various billing fees,” would amount to $900,000 in annual commissions for the county – all paid for by prisoners and their family members. Aleks Kajstura, with the Massachusetts-based Prison Policy Initiative, called those rates “unreasonable.”
Notably, high prison and jail phone rates are being charged in a market where non-prison telecom companies provide flat-rate unlimited calling, texting and emails for about $40 a month. In response to pressure from prisoners’ rights advocacy ...
by Edward B. Lyon, Jr.
Members of various Native Americans tribes live in reservations across the United States, where they police themselves and maintain tribal jails for detention. Federal funds are used to operate those facilities and a multitude of agencies – including the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Interior Department, and Department of Health and Human Services’ Indian Health Service (IHS) – contribute to daily operations and medical care for approximately 80 jails scattered between Alaska and Mississippi.
The facilities house around 2,500 prisoners, and the BIA exercises oversight for all the jails and manages about 20 of them. [See: PLN, Aug. 2015, p.15].
Inadequate medical staffing at tribal jails results in guards having to dispense medications, a job they are not qualified to perform, which has resulted in prisoners sometimes not receiving correct medications. Further, one prisoner in a Washington tribal jail pounded on his cell door for hours, begging for pain medication for his broken leg, but never received any. At another facility, according to a March 31, 2018 Los Angeles Times article, a diabetic prisoner was not provided with insulin.
“It’s not really safe for really anybody,” said Lynette Bonar, chief executive of ...
Alaska: An internal investigation was launched by the Alaska Department of Corrections after five female prisoners at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River overdosed on an unknown substance over a two-day period. DOC spokeswoman Megan Edge said four of the prisoners were transported to local hospitals for treatment and the other was stabilized by prison medical staff. She added the October 30 and 31, 2017 incidents were unusual and taken very seriously. Edge commended prison officials for their quick and appropriate response to the non-fatal medical emergencies; it was unclear what the substance was or how it got into the facility.
Arizona: Prisoners Robert Villalobos, 30, Santiago Sanchez, 27, and Mauricio Moraga, 26, were found guilty by a jury in August 2017 and sentenced to life in prison on November 2, 2017 for their roles in the attempted murder of Lt. Sergio Antolin, a guard at the Pinal County jail. The three prisoners were allegedly members of the Arizona Mexican Mafia who had targeted Antolin because he was responsible for investigating the jail’s gang population. Superior Court Judge Kevin White also sentenced the men for additional crimes related to Antolin’s 2016 stabbing. Moraga will serve 71 years consecutive ...