by Alan Prendergast, Westword
You see them on TV, usually around the time they are arrested. Men who have declared war on America, combatants in a conflict that never ends. They are captured on the street and at airports, in mid-stride and sometimes in mid-attack.
Some of them have long, Arabic names. The journalists prefer nicknames. The Shoe Bomber. The Blind Sheikh. The American Taliban. You see them or you hear about them, just for a moment, and then they are gone, as if the earth swallowed them.
Where do they go, these men? What happens to them after judgment is passed and they are sent away?
There may or may not be a special place in hell for terrorists, but there is a special place in Colorado for them – a place for jihadists, conspirators, suppliers of material aid, failed suicide bombers, self-styled avengers, guerrilla leaders and more. Its name is H Unit.
H Unit is the most restricted area in the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum, or ADX, the highest-security pen in the federal prison system. Located a hundred miles southwest of Denver, just outside the high-desert town of Florence, the “Alcatraz of the Rockies” is known ...
by Christopher Zoukis
On October 30, 2012, several guards at the Rikers Island jail complex in New York City used batons to beat handcuffed prisoner Gabino Genao, 31, into unconsciousness. In the wake of that incident, guards Moises Simancas, April Jackson and Tyrone Wint resigned, pleaded guilty to criminal charges ...
by Paul Wright
Welcome to another issue of PLN! We have been reporting on the federal ADX supermax since it opened in 1994 as the U.S. government’s highest-security prison dedicated to destroying human beings through total isolation. Over the years we have covered the myriad abuses and corruption at ADX, including a snitch factory, suicides, the lack of mental health care for prisoners who either became seriously mentally ill through prolonged isolation or were already mentally ill when they arrived, mail censorship, denial of access to journalists and more.
Unsurprisingly, PLN has not been overly popular with the authorities at ADX; our publication has been censored multiple times over the years, and we have sued ADX officials twice. One lawsuit is currently pending on cross-motions for summary judgment. In our previous case, prison staff claimed, incredibly, that they could censor PLN if we mentioned any prisoners or employees by name. Other “offensive” PLN content included articles discussing the legal means (such as habeas petitions or Bivens actions) that ADX prisoners could use to challenge their placement at the facility, among other things.
The current use of long-term solitary confinement at ADX confirms what people have known since at least ...
by Derek Gilna
Sebastian Richardson, a former prisoner held in the Special Management Unit (SMU) at the federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, has won an important legal victory against the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). In a July 15, 2016 ruling, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s decision that denied his lawsuit class-action status after the BOP transferred him from Lewisburg to another facility.
The pro se lawsuit, previously covered in PLN, alleged violations of Richardson’s civil rights stemming from numerous incidents of violence at the high-security USP Lewisburg. [See: PLN, April 2017, p.16].
As noted by the Third Circuit, Richardson claimed that prison officials “frequently placed inmates in cells with hostile cellmates, unnecessarily increasing the risk of inmate-on-inmate violence.... He further alleges that if an inmate refused to accept a hostile cellmate, he would be placed in painful restraints as a form of punishment.... Richardson claims that he was subjected to this policy and that it violated his Fifth and Eighth Amendment rights.”
“[The prisoners] are not a threat to anyone, they’re not a danger to anyone,”
said Dave Sprout, with the Lewisburg Prison Project. “They’re just being punished for not having ...
by David M. Reutter
In 1868, in response to the abolition of slavery following the Civil War (except for prisoners), Florida enshrined in its constitution the permanent disenfranchisement of people convicted of a felony. The deprivation of felons’ voting rights was combined with Black Codes that criminalized offenses state lawmakers believed were mostly committed by blacks, as a means of sending freed slaves to prison and ensuring they could not vote.
While the civil rights movement helped to change racial attitudes, Florida has held strong to its disenfranchisement policy. It is one of only four states, the others being Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia, to require executive clemency to restore voting rights.
“[Felon disenfranchisement] is understood as an issue of law and order, and in Florida that’s the end of the discussion,” said Scott Paine, a political analyst for the Florida League of Cities. “It is not seen in other terms, no matter the merits of other arguments. At the same time, this may be less about the state as a whole than about a particular administration’s perspective.”
Over a four-year period, former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who earned the nickname “Chain Gang Charlie” as a state senator ...
by Steve Horn
In the realm of prisons and jails, many companies have positioned themselves to profit from mass incarceration.
Few have done so in the area of prisoner communications with as much vigor as JPay, whose business model centers around charging prisoners fees to communicate with the outside world via phone calls, video calling and e-messaging. The company also has a substantial share of the prison money transfer market.
But JPay, which has myriad contracts with jails and state prison systems, has come under scrutiny over a vulnerability in its media content ordering system that occurred in June and July 2018 at several facilities run by the Idaho Department of Correction.
Prison Legal News obtained documents via a public records request concerning the incident, which indicate that a prisoner tipped off state officials. Though his name was redacted, one document shows the prisoner contacted prison staff through a confidential informant line, explaining how the JPay vulnerability was being exploited by other prisoners.
The informant had originally reached out to JPay on June 28 via the company’s internal support system, letting them know prisoners were using a “glitch” to obtain hundreds of dollars worth of credits to purchase music, games ...
by Monte McCoin
PLN’s regular readers will recall our previous coverage of the arrests and convictions of three Ku Klux Klan members who formerly worked as prison guards at Florida’s Reception and Medical Center, who conspired to place a “hit” on a recently-released African American prisoner. David Elliot Moran, Charles Thomas Newcomb and Thomas Jordan Driver were each sentenced in 2017 to serve 12 years in prison in connection with the scheme. [See: PLN, Apr. 2018, p.48; Feb. 2016, p.1].
On July 8, 2018, Florida’s State Board of Administration (SBA) rejected Moran’s attempt to collect state retirement benefits despite his criminal conviction for conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. Moran had claimed there was no connection between the murder-for-hire plot and his employment as a prison guard, but an administrative law judge disagreed in May 2018, and the SBA upheld that decision in response to Moran’s appeal.
“It might have been difficult for petitioner and his co-conspirators to carry out a murder or attempted murder of an inmate at the correctional facility at which they worked or had worked. However, just because the conspiracy to commit murder occurred off the employer’s premises, does not mean that forfeiture [of benefits ...
by Derek Gilna
California state prisoner Roy Butler, serving an indeterminate prison term for second-degree murder, sought habeas corpus relief on December 12, 2012, contesting the California Parole Board’s process of calculating the length of his sentence. Butler and the state agreed to a settlement “requiring the [Parole] Board to calculate the ‘base terms’ of an inmate serving an indeterminate sentence for use at the inmate’s initial parole hearing.” [See: PLN, Jan. 2014, p.32].
Prior to 1977, the imposition of a statutory sentence between a minimum and maximum period of imprisonment vested absolute control over the amount of time actually served to the Parole Board, leading to often widely disparate sentences. Although such sentences were largely eliminated after that date, Butler argued that recent statutory changes required a modification of the 2013 settlement. The Court of Appeal rejected his argument and he sought review of that adverse decision.
According to the California Supreme Court, “The  settlement agreement was premised on the idea that ‘base terms’ played some role – defined by statute – in determining release dates for those sentenced to indeterminate terms. Given this premise, the elimination of ‘base term’ calculations from any such role is ...
by Matt Clarke
In August 2017, Oklahoma state prisoners and the non-profit All In One Project filed a federal civil rights suit arguing political contributions made by private prison firms to state officials led to contracts with those companies that included a 98 percent occupancy rate at private prisons. The contracts allegedly caused Oklahoma to have a very low (10 percent) parole grant rate and unconstitutional conditions of confinement in its prisons, such as overcrowding and excessive levels of violence.
According to court documents, the All In One Project’s “membership consists of individuals impacted by the criminal justice system, including, among others, individuals serving life sentences, family members of these individuals, ‘lifers groups’ made up of individuals serving life sentences at various Oklahoma prisons, and individuals serving the parole terms equivalent to life sentences.”
The lawsuit accused Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, high-ranking government officials and legislative leaders of engaging in an “incarceration-for-profit scheme,” noting they received over $175,000 in campaign contributions from CoreCivic during the previous election cycle alone. The company was previously known as Corrections Corporation of America.
Those and similar donations by private prison firm GEO Group were allegedly in exchange for contracts guaranteeing a ...
by David Reutter
Cook County, Illinois has paid $4.75 million to settle a federal lawsuit alleging it failed to provide doctor-ordered accommodations for a pretrial detainee who suffered seizures.
In October 2014, Michael Joseph Borys was booked into the Cook County Jail on a misdemeanor charge. He was seen ...
by Steve Horn
On July 1, 2018, the film “American Jail” made its premiere screening before a cable television audience on CNN.
Given how seldom criminal justice-related issues – let alone the carceral system – are given serious discussion on the network, which bills itself as the “worldwide leader in news,” getting over an hour and a half devoted to that topic on CNN was quite the triumph for film director Roger Ross Williams. Yet despite airing on the corporate-owned airwaves, “American Jail” provides an unvarnished and uncompromising look at the U.S. penal system rivaling anything done by alternative media voices. Indeed, the promotional blurb published online unflinchingly details the fact that the United States has more people behind bars than any other country on the planet.
Featuring numerous interview segments with Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, which publishes Prison Legal News, at its core the show is an intensely personal one for Williams, in which he goes back to his hometown of Easton, Pennsylvania and asks, “What happened to my old friends from childhood?”
As it turns out, many of Williams’ friends have been arrested and imprisoned. One of them, his ...
by Matt Clarke
Since February 2015, a settlement and stipulation in Parsons v. Ryan has required the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) to monitor and log indoor temperatures at state prisons. According to the Phoenix New Times, not only do the logs show excessive summer heat – as high as 119 degrees in some facilities – other logs have signs they were falsified by prison officials.
Every unit at ASPC-Douglas, near the border with Mexico, showed triple-digit indoor temperatures over the July 4, 2017 weekend. The log for the Gila Unit indicated it was 119 degrees at 16:00 on June 17. At the same time, the Papago Unit recorded 109 degrees. The next day, Gila recorded 113 degrees at 16:00, while both the Mohave Unit and the CDU reported 109 degrees, and the Papago Unit showed 104 degrees.
During a heat wave in June 2017, the women’s prison in Perryville recorded triple-digit indoor temperatures while the temperature inside the medical holding enclosures at the prison in Stafford hit 100 degrees.
“Obviously, these are very dangerous temperatures for anybody,” stated David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, which represents Arizona prisoners in the Parsons litigation. He ...
by Matthew Clarke
On February 21, 2018, a federal district court issued an injunction prohibiting the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) from reverting conditions of confinement on death row to those that existed when a lawsuit challenging those conditions was filed four years earlier. The DOC had improved conditions on death row in 2015, to the extent they were no longer unconstitutional. The court also held that its injunction did not violate the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 18 U.S.C. § 3626.
The plaintiffs in the suit, prisoners on Virginia’s death row, filed a federal civil rights complaint in November 2014 alleging the conditions of their confinement violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Those conditions included 23 hours a day alone in 71-square-foot cells; no contact visits; no congregate meals; no congregate recreation, religious, educational or social programming; only three showers a week and just five hours of outdoor recreation per week in separate, isolated cages.
The district court found that those conditions of confinement, amounting to physical isolation, caused the plaintiffs psychological harm in violation of the Eighth Amendment. It also held the defendants knew about the potential for such harm and were ...
by Matthew Clarke
In January 2018, the City of Cleveland Heights, Ohio agreed to pay $200,000 to settle a lawsuit over the death of a prisoner two days after she arrived at the city’s jail.
Ralkina Jones, 37, was booked into the facility on charges of assaulting her ex-husband ...
On August 1, 2018, PLN’s parent organization, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court on behalf of the mother of a Florida state prisoner who died of starvation and inadequate medical and mental health care in December 2015.
Vincent Gaines was serving a five-year prison term for burglary of a dwelling. When he was sentenced in June 2013, the court recommended that he be placed in a mental health program; Vincent had previously been hospitalized twice for mental health care, and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and mania with psychotic features.
He was transferred to the Florida Department of Corrections’ (FDOC) Transitional Care Unit at the Dade Correctional Institution in March 2014, due to auditory hallucinations and delusions. As part of his treatment plan, Vincent was placed on a “boneless diet” served without utensils. In November of that year, his weight was recorded at 151 pounds – a drop of almost 40 pounds within the previous 18 months.
Following a disciplinary infraction in April 2015 for trying to enter the facility’s food service area without permission, Vincent was transferred to the Florida State Prison in Raiford, then to the Union Correctional Institution, where ...
by Matt Clarke
In November 2017, Summit County, Colorado reached a $3.5 million settlement in a lawsuit brought by the family of a prisoner who died at the county’s jail.
Zachary Moffitt, 33, was being treated for acute alcohol poisoning in a hospital emergency room when he pulled out ...
by Derek Gilna
In June 2012, following a dispute with officials at the Washington State Penitentiary (WSP), prisoner John Thomas Entler filed written complaints in which he said he would file lawsuits and seek criminal charges if his grievances were not addressed. He was then disciplined for those statements under a Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) regulation that bars prisoners from “intimidating or coercing prison staff.”
After Entler objected to what he considered unjustified deductions from his prison trust account and other issues, including the failure of a staff member to make legal copies, he filed several complaints pursuant to DOC grievance procedures. When he received a work assignment that he argued violated his religious beliefs, he again complained and threatened to file suit.
Shortly thereafter, prison officials “issued Entler a serious infraction for his July 19 letter to the Religious Programs Manager threatening to sue to protect his religious freedom ... [because] Entler’s threat to sue was intimidating and coercive in violation of [DOC] Rule 663.”
Upon being found guilty of infractions by prison staff and disciplined, Entler threatened to contact the governor and the U.S. Department of Justice, and was subjected to additional discipline. He filed ...
As dawn broke on August 6, 2018, the light shone on a group of about two dozen protesters who had blockaded the main entrance to the Nashville, Tennessee headquarters of CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), the nation’s largest for-profit prison firm. Both entrances to the building’s parking garage were blocked, too. The peaceful demonstration continued for over eight hours and resulted in a response from nearly 70 Metro-Nashville police officers and the arrests of 19 participants on misdemeanor trespassing charges.
A small group of protesters joined hands through sections of pipe and laid down in front of one parking garage entrance, while the second entrance was blocked by demonstrators who had chained their hands into concrete-filled 55-gallon drums painted with slogans denouncing CoreCivic’s business practices. In a dramatic display at the main entrance to the company’s headquarters, protesters erected a 30-foot-tall tripod made of wooden logs, from which protester Julie Henry dangled in a sling.
A smaller group of community members and activists marched nearby holding signs and singing chants in solidarity with the demonstrators blockading the building.
The intent of the protest, as stated on a large banner hung during the event, was to place CoreCivic’s corporate headquarters ...
by Ed Lyon
Aaron Carter is a Virginia state prisoner; he is also a member of the Nation of Islam. Due to his religion’s dietary restrictions, he was enrolled in the prison system’s Common Fare program (CFP), which serves both halal and kosher meals.
On October 1, 2015, the CFP ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Kevin Carwile, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) attorney in charge of the agency’s death penalty prosecution unit, has been demoted over allegations that he fostered a “sexualized environment” in his workplace.
The New York Times reported on the accusations against Carwile on March 31, 2018 in an article that highlighted multiple accusations of sexism, favoritism and harassment. According to the Times, Carwile has been investigated at least a dozen times since he was tapped to run the death penalty unit in 2010.
Before overseeing the capital punishment division, he was head of the DOJ’s gangs unit. He was bounced from that post in the wake of the “Fast and Furious” scandal involving the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in which federal agents allowed criminal gangs to transport guns to Mexico in the hope of building a better case against them. According to the Times, Carwile incorrectly told investigators that the BATFE learned about the firearms being moved illegally after it had already happened.
During his time as head of the death penalty unit, Carwile reportedly held men-only meetings, sent emails only to male employees and gave the best cases to men. One former ...
by Ed Lyon
Erik Daniel Christianson spent time in the Martin County jail in Minnesota on four occasions between 2013 and 2014. Under state “pay for stay” laws, prisoners are required to pay $25 for each day spent in jail. Accordingly, Christianson accrued a total of $7,625 in jail debt.
Indigent persons are entitled to be absolved from such debts if they request a waiver. Christianson’s attorney, Bradford W. Colbert with Legal Assistance to Minnesota Prisoners at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law, sent three letters to Martin County Sheriff Jeffrey Markquart, requesting debt forgiveness for his client. Receiving no answer to the first two letters, Colbert asked for either debt forgiveness or for Markquart to accept summons and service.
After receiving no reply to his third letter, Colbert filed suit on Christianson’s behalf. Markquart moved for summary judgment. Finding no genuine issue of material fact, and that Markquart had violated state law, the federal district court denied his motion.
The court held the Minnesota statutes were written with unambiguously mandatory language that require all sheriffs to implement policies and procedures to assess a prisoner’s ability to pay jail debt. Sheriff Markquart had wholly failed to obey the statutory ...
by Ed Lyon
On March 25, 2015, Gregory Smith, 39, was arrested in Hobart, Indiana for driving five miles an hour over the speed limit. He was transferred to the Crown Point police, then booked into the Lake County jail. He told several guards and medical staff that he suffered ...
by Matthew Clarke
After former Mexican Mafia general Raymond S. “Indio” Tellez agreed to testify against the gang, two gang members stabbed him multiple times in a secure area of a private prison operated by the GEO Group. He filed suit and, following a bench trial, received $25,000 in ...
by Matt Clarke
On October 16, 2017, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a $1.7 million settlement in a lawsuit brought by the family of a man who committed suicide at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility (TTCF).
Eric Loberg, 48, displayed signs of acute psychosis when he ...
by Matthew Clarke
From 2014 through July 2018, at least 52 lawsuits were filed in federal court against Correct Care Solutions (CCS) – a private medical contractor based in Nashville, Tennessee – alleging failure to provide adequate medical care to prisoners in Colorado jails. Six of the cases involved fatalities ...
by Matt Clarke
In Utah’s local jails, a record number of deaths in 2016 caused both civil liberties groups and state legislators to question the standards under which the facilities operate. But there are no jail standards under state law, and the standards adopted by counties are kept secret by the company that developed them – a business founded by Gary DeLand, a former director of the Utah Department of Corrections (DOC), who claims the standards and results of compliance audits are his firm’s work product and thus exempt from public disclosure.
DeLand ran the Utah DOC from 1985 to 1992. During his tenure he supported radical measures such as using a hitching post on prisoners who refused to work. The DOC was known as a tough place to do time under DeLand, with numerous reports of abuse.
Lane McCotter succeeded DeLand as Utah’s prison director. They both later worked together in 2003 as paid consultants in the retrofitting of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, also training its staff. Afterwards, the U.S. military became involved in an infamous prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib when photos of prisoners being tortured and humiliated were released. DeLand and McCotter were ...
by Dale Chappell
Although prison phone service providers and law enforcement officials won their lawsuit to block the FCC’s $.11-per-minute cap on intrastate (in-state) prison phone calls [see: PLN, July 2017, p.52], states can still lower the rates – to even below $.11 per minute – and some have done so. Interstate (long distance) phone rates remain capped by a 2013 FCC order at $.25 per minute for collect calls and $.21 per minute for debit and prepaid calls. [See: PLN, Dec. 2013, p.1].
Governors and city and county officials have the power to stop the price-gouging of prisoners and their families by prison telecom companies, said Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, which publishes PLN and directs the national Campaign for Prison Phone Justice. While a number of states have lowered prison phone rates, at the county jail level “things are really a disaster,” he noted.
Many counties continue to charge $15, $18 or even more for a 15-minute intrastate call. The problem is “commission” kickbacks from phone service providers, noted Aleks Kajstura, legal director for the Prison Policy Initiative. Whereas government agencies usually contract with a vendor that can provide the ...
by David Reutter
Poor sanitation, asbestos contamination, leaky roofs, inadequate health care, the loss of a top doctor frustrated with it all – those are just some of the problems that have plagued Georgia’s Augusta State Medical Prison (ASMP). Plus incidents of brutality by guards.
“These prisoners are often selected for abuse because they suffer from mental illness and have difficulty reporting assaults or being taken seriously when they do,” a federal civil rights lawsuit filed in August 2017 claims.
Photos of ASMP showing “garbage bags and empty boxes filling portable Dumpsters and spilling onto the floor” – even in a hallway outside the operating room – were obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in October 2017.
“At times,” the newspaper reported, “the bags almost reached the ceiling.”
Dr. Mary Sherryl Alston, ASMP’s medical director, wrote that the trash drew insects “of all varieties” into the operating room, and that during procedures mosquitoes had to be swatted away. The smell of garbage was noticeable.
“I am incredulous that such a discussion is still needed to address the problem within a facility that provides health care,” Dr. Alston wrote. “Simple solution: stop placing garbage by the OR now ...
by Matthew Clarke
On November 15, 2017, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of a Louisiana federal prisoner’s claims that prison officials conspired to retaliate against him for filing a grievance regarding power outages at his facility.
Derrick D.L. Brunson’s grievance expressed safety concerns related to several power outages at the federal prison where he was housed. Counselor K. Nichols told him the grievance interfered with staff members’ duties, and was potentially threatening to prison safety. She reported it to her supervisors, including Captain Valle, and charged Brunson with a disciplinary infraction.
As a result, he was placed in a Special Housing Unit (SHU) for three weeks pending his disciplinary hearing. At the hearing, Brunson was found guilty and sentenced to seven days of disciplinary segregation and forfeiture of three months’ privileges. He filed a pro se federal civil rights lawsuit pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), alleging, among other claims, retaliation and conspiracy to retaliate against him for filing the grievance.
The district court dismissed all of Brunson’s claims on the grounds that the punishment was de minimus and insufficient to warrant a finding ...
by David Reutter
A North Carolina federal district court has voided a contract between death row exoneree Henry McCollum and his lawyer. The court’s unusual move was based on evidence that due to his low IQ, McCollum was vulnerable to manipulation.
As previously reported in PLN, McCollum and his brother, Leon Brown, were released after serving over 30 years for the rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie. DNA evidence proved their innocence and revealed the crime was actually committed by Roscoe Artis – someone McCollum had served time with on death row and believed was his friend. [See: PLN, Aug. 2017, p.58].
Cases such as McCollum and Brown’s became magnets for consultants and attorneys hoping to cash in on fees for the ensuing wrongful conviction lawsuits. Shortly after the brothers were released in September 2014, Kimberly Weekes, a consultant in Atlanta, heard about their situation and decided that she and her partner, Deborah Pointer in New York, could put pressure on the governor’s office to grant a pardon.
In January 2015, Weekes and Pointer signed a contract with McCollum and Brown to provide “advocacy and civil rights” services. The agreement included an advance payable to the consultants, plus ...
by Matthew Clarke
In September 2017, Washoe County, Nevada settled a lawsuit brought by the parents of a man who died after a struggle with deputies at the county jail.
Reno police arrested Justin Thompson, 35, and took him to a hospital for treatment of injuries he received in a ...
by Matt Clarke
In November 2017, Ohio state officials agreed to pay $525,000 to settle a lawsuit over the repeated sexual assault of a female prisoner.
Chesterland, Ohio attorney David B. Malik represented Dorothea Reynolds, who was incarcerated at the Ohio Reformatory for Women (ORW) in 2008 and 2009 ...
by Matt Clarke
In 2015, Texas converted its outpatient program for civilly committed sex offenders into a “tiered” treatment program, in which participants start out in a “total confinement facility” at twice the cost of the original program. The state awarded Correct Care Solutions a $24 million contract to provide housing and treatment at the Texas Civil Commitment Center (TCCC) in Littlefield, formerly a failed private prison known as the Bill Clayton Detention Facility.
Correct Care had just acquired GEO Care, a subsidiary of the GEO Group – a for-profit prison firm whose 2009 abandonment of the Littlefield facility had almost forced the city into default on its bonds. [See: PLN, Oct. 2013, p.45]. GEO Care had a poor reputation, having been sued multiple times for providing inadequate health care. The company was known for having cooked alive a Florida psychiatric hospital patient who was left in a scalding hot bath, and for providing such abysmal care at a Texas immigration detention center that it sparked a riot.
The state’s contract with Correct Care required it to hire about 100 employees to provide treatment and housing for 277 civilly committed sex offenders at TCCC, which it rented from Littlefield ...
The City of Ferguson, Missouri has paid $55,000 to a pretrial detainee who had sex with a guard, who in exchange allowed her to escape.
On October 9, 2013, while driving through Ferguson, a woman identified as “J.W.” was pulled over for an expired license plate. During ...
by Derek Gilna
In December 2017, Gabriel Solache and Arturo Reyes saw their confessions in a 2000 murder trial that resulted in their convictions set aside by Cook County Circuit Court Judge James M. Obbish. But as soon as they were released from prison they were immediately taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Solache, 46, and Reyes, 43, confessed to the 1998 murders of Mariano and Jacinto Soto at the couple’s home in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago. The men had recently arrived from Mexico to work as laborers, living in the same apartment building as Adriana Mejia, who received a life sentence for planning the killings to kidnap the Soto’s infant daughter.
Tried separately, Solache and Reyes were both convicted and sentenced to life in prison (Solache was originally sentenced to death, which was later commuted to life without parole). The pair, who did not speak English at the time of their arrest, claimed their confessions were beaten out of them by Chicago Police Department Detective Reynaldo Guevara, a 30-year veteran.
Accused of abusing suspects and bullying witnesses in several cases, Guevara has been the subject of multiple investigations. In cases where he was questioned about ...
by Matt Clarke
On January 14, 2018, about 400 to 500 civilly committed sex offender “patients” met in the common area of California’s Coalinga State Hospital to protest a stringent new rule that went into effect that day. The rule banned the possession of electronic devices with Internet access or writable storage media, such as MP3 players, e-book readers, video games, flash drives and computer-like devices.
If a patient agreed to allow a device to be searched, it would be mailed to an address of the patient’s choosing. If no consent to a search was given, the device would be destroyed.
Hospital officials said the new rule was prompted by an epidemic of child pornography at the facility, which houses civilly committed sex offenders after they have completed their prison sentences. However, patients and their advocates claimed the rule was in retaliation for offenders at the facility influencing the outcome of a local election.
Supporting the patients’ version of events is the fact that only 18 of the hospital’s nearly 1,300 patients were charged with possession of child pornography between September 2016 and January 2018. Considering that about a sixth of the sex offenders housed at Coalinga State Hospital ...
by Steve Horn
Louisiana-based Emerald Correctional Management, also known as Emerald Corrections, was once among the major movers and shakers in the private prison industry. Today it’s a figment of the past.
Emerald was notorious for atrocious conditions in its detention facilities, as documented in a recent investigative piece co-published by Newsweek and the California-based publication Capital and Main. Incidents at the company’s prisons and jails included the medical-related deaths of immigrant detainees Igor Zyazin at the San Luis Regional Detention Facility in Arizona and Olubunmi Joshua at the Rolling Plains Detention Center in Texas; the “2016 suicide of a 77-year-old county inmate, Kennie Moore, who hanged himself using his boxer shorts as a noose” at Rolling Plains; and a lawsuit filed by Emerald employees who were “forced to work off the clock and weren’t paid for overtime.” The suit was settled out of court.
In 2016, as one of Emerald’s last acts during the two decades it was in business, the company opened the $60 million Prairieland Detention Center. Located in Alvarado, Texas, the 700-bed facility houses detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), though technically the five-year contract is with the City of Alvarado. The center was ...
by David M. Reutter
In December 2017, a Louisiana federal district court declared that the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court (OPCDC) had violated the constitutional rights of defendants by jailing them for failure to pay fines and fees without first determining their ability to pay. The federal court further found the parish judges had an inherent conflict of interest in determining whether defendants can pay the fines and fees, which comprise a large portion of the OPCDC’s budget.
The suit was filed on behalf of former criminal defendants who pleaded guilty and were ordered to pay fines and fees as part of their sentence. All were poor and had been arrested for failure to pay. In most cases, they spent several days or weeks in jail before being released, which came only after a payment or promise of payment was made to the court.
The OPCDC funds its court operations and staff payroll from a Judicial Expense Fund; it had annual revenue of $4 million from 2012 through 2015. Around half the revenue came from government entities while the remainder was from bail-bond fees, fines and court-ordered fees.
To collect the fines and fees imposed on defendants, the OPCDC created ...
by Matthew Clarke
On November 11, 2017, notice of a $200,000 settlement was filed in a federal lawsuit over the death of a diabetic Texarkana jail prisoner who died after a nurse ignored her repeated requests for a blood sugar test. Soon thereafter the mother of the prisoner filed ...
by Ed Lyon
On November 7, 2015, Michael Marshall, who was mentally ill, was arrested for trespassing and disturbing the peace at a motel in Denver, Colorado. Upon being booked into jail with a $100 bond, he was video recorded pacing in a walkway after refusing to remain seated. He resisted a deputy who grabbed him, causing five more guards to become involved; they held him down in a prone position and, according to a nurse, continued to put pressure on his neck after she told them to stop.
Marshall, 50, was taken to a hospital after choking on his vomit while being restrained. His family learned he had been arrested only after he was hospitalized, where he remained until he died nine days later on November 20, 2015.
Two deputies and a captain were disciplined in connection with Marshall’s death and placed on unpaid suspensions in May 2017. Deputy Bret Garegnani received a 16-day suspension because he “failed to exercise the least amount of force necessary to achieve his legitimate law enforcement or detention related function,” while deputy Carlos Hernandez and captain James Johnson were each suspended for 10 days.
Although Marshall’s death was ruled a homicide by ...
by David Reutter
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held on January 22, 2018 that civil rights actions brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are considered personal injury claims. With that principle established, the Court found that such a claim can survive a plaintiff’s death and allow for party substitution under Ohio law.
Keith Crabbs was taken into custody in March 2012 after a court in Franklin County, Ohio revoked his bond. That revocation was based on Crabbs quarreling with a witness outside the courthouse and appearing late for his trial on a voluntary manslaughter charge.
Officials at the Franklin County Jail failed to collect Crabbs’ DNA pursuant to an Ohio statute that mandates collection of a DNA specimen from anyone “arrested on or after July 1, 2011, for a felony offense.” The failure to obtain a DNA sample triggered an “ID hold.” A jury acquitted Crabbs, but the hold required him to undergo a DNA cheek swab before he was released.
Crabbs sued Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott in his official capacity, alleging the DNA collection and ID hold policies, when applied to acquitted defendants, violated the Fourth Amendment. Crabbs died while the case was ...
by David Reutter
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals held that privacy interests in not disclosing a 20-year-old proposed termination letter for a previous Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) outweighed the pubic interest under exemption 5 U.S.C. § 552(6)(6).
Howard Bloomgarden, represented by attorney Torrence E.S. Lewis, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Department of Justice (DOJ) for disclosure of a termination letter naming the AUSA. He asserted the letter was a public record as the AUSA was a government employee at the time. He also argued it could help him in his criminal appeals because the AUSA had prosecuted him, and it may show severe misconduct and laxness in the DOJ’s disciplinary process.
The district court acknowledged Bloomgarden’s motivation to obtain the letter because it involved his own legal proceedings, but clarified that it must consider the public’s interest, not the individual’s. The court granted summary judgment to the DOJ, holding the AUSA’s privacy interest in not being unduly embarrassed outweighed the public interest in disclosure.
The DOJ released over 3,000 pages of other documents related to the termination letter, but after an in camera review, the court ...
Four employees at North Carolina’s Pasquotank Correctional Institution were killed during an ill-conceived escape attempt last year. The four prisoners involved in the incident, who were caught before they left the prison grounds, have been charged with first-degree murder.
The deadly October 12, 2017 escape plan originated in the prison’s sewing plant, a Correction Enterprises industry program where prisoners made safety vests and embroidered logos onto clothing. [See: PLN, May 2018, p.14]. Guard Justin Smith was the only corrections officer overseeing over 30 prisoners working at the plant at the time. Prisoner Wisezah Buckman, 29, who was serving a 32-year sentence for murder, jumped at an invitation to join the escape.
In a letter to the Charlotte Observer, Buckman said he was sitting at his assigned sewing machine and joking with another prisoner when “an invitation [was] extended towards me, which I pondered and considered and concluded that all I want to do is see my children and tell them I love them.”
Around 2:43 p.m., the escape attempt began to unfold. Two prisoners – Mikel Brady, 28, serving a 24-year term for shooting a state trooper during a 2013 traffic stop, and Seth J. Frazier ...
by Edward B. Lyon, Jr.
Charles E. Sisney, serving a life sentence since 1997, has been active in the courts on prison-related issues for years. His latest target is the 2014 version of the South Dakota Department of Corrections’ (SDDOC) pornography policy, which prohibits state prisoners from purchasing, possessing or manufacturing pornography or pornographic writings, and bans pornography in both incoming and outgoing correspondence. The 2014 policy superseded an earlier, less inclusive policy.
Specifically, Sisney challenged the censorship and rejection of various publications that were mailed to him, including “two erotic novels, Thrones of Desire and Pride and Prejudice: The Wild and Wanton Edition, as well as four Japanese manga comics from a series called Pretty Face, nine images of Renaissance artworks depicting nudity, a book on Matisse and Picasso, and a poster featuring the iconic Coppertone suntan-girl advertisement.”
The district court granted summary judgment for Sisney, invalidating the 2014 policy “on its face.” The court then resurrected the superseded 2000 policy and used it to rule on all but one of Sisney’s as-applied challenges in his favor.
The SDDOC appealed and Sisney cross-appealed. The South Dakota American Civil Liberties Union and the National Coalition Against Censorship filed ...
by David Reutter
In February 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Prison Litigation Reform Act’s administrative exhaustion requirement justifies the tolling of the statute of limitations, but not the creation of a new accrual time.
Arizona prisoner Angel Soto filed suit over an April 2010 incident in which he alleged guards beat him, stomped on him and kicked him in the head while he was on a mental health watch. He also accused guards of using excessive force by strapping him to a gurney and spraying him with Mace, and of sexually assaulting him by spraying Mace into his rectum.
After filing a grievance, Soto was sent to the Special Services Unit to document his injuries. Once there, he was told his complaint would be investigated and he could complete the grievance process once the investigation was over. It was not until April 2014 that the Criminal Investigation Unit finished its review, finding his sexual assault claim unfounded due to insufficient evidence.
Soto had restarted the grievance process several months earlier, and exhausted his administrative remedies on May 2, 2014. He then filed his civil rights action. The district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary ...
by David Reutter
The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a $25,000 verdict in a civil rights action alleging the sheriff in Tulsa County, Oklahoma was deliberately indifferent to conditions that resulted in a 17-year-old prisoner being repeatedly sexually assaulted by a guard.
The lawsuit concerned events that occurred ...
by Jeremy Pinson
Following a trial in April 2017 in a Los Angeles, California federal courtroom, a jury awarded $675,000 to prisoner James M. Jerra in a case that included excessive force and retaliation Bivens claims.
Jerra, who was housed at the Federal Correctional Complex in Lompoc, alleged that ...
A recent study by the Urban Institute estimated that “wrongful convictions in cases with a sexual assault component occurred at a rate of 11.6 percent.”
While the research was based on 714 murder and felony sexual assault cases across 56 Virginia circuit courts, it concluded that the wrongful conviction rate was “not significantly different from other states, suggesting that findings of research may be extended – with caution – to other jurisdictions.”
The study was made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice, and allowed the Urban Institute to follow up on a 2012 study where it had applied “post-conviction DNA testing to a large set of convictions, regardless of any existing claims or evidence of wrongful convictions.”
That earlier study examined 715 cases involving murder and sexual assault convictions in Virginia between 1973 and 1987. It determined that five to eight percent of the convictions were wrongful. Each of those cases still had existing biological evidence, which was contrary to Virginia’s policy at the time to destroy such evidence. One forensic seriologist, Mary Jane Burton, and another person she trained, had physically attached biological samples to hard ...
by Matthew Clarke
A lawsuit filed in federal district court alleges guards at the jail in Milam County, Texas beat a compliant prisoner without any reason, causing him to become paralyzed, then “released” him while he was in the hospital so the jail wouldn’t have to pay his medical bills.
John L. Robertson, 41, was on probation for an assault charge when he asked his probation officer to help him find treatment for a drug problem. On June 20, 2016, he voluntarily entered the Milam County jail to await transfer to a drug treatment facility operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The transfer never happened.
According to court documents, on July 14, jailer Jonathan Mendoza ordered the prisoners in Robertson’s cell to go to the recreation yard. Some of the younger prisoners were delaying and saying they didn’t want to go, so Robertson told them they should stop wasting time and just do what they were told. Mendoza cursed at Robertson, saying he did not want him telling anyone else what to do.
After the prisoners returned from rec, Mendoza and jailers Cindy McBee and Joshua Hughes came to the cell. Mendoza cursed and threatened Robertson while he ...
by David Reutter
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that an Indiana federal district court erred in dismissing a prisoner’s civil rights action for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The Court held the record indicated the prisoner was prevented from filing a grievance due to mixed or improper instructions from the grievance coordinator.
Indiana state prisoner Terry Davis filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint alleging that on January 5, 2014, guards David Mason and Blake Thrasher punched him repeatedly, put him in a chokehold and placed a plastic bag over his head. He sustained two black eyes, broken teeth and possibly a broken nose.
Upon the district court’s invitation, the defendants moved for summary judgment based on Davis’ failure to exhaust administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act. The court subsequently granted the motion and Davis appealed.
In a February 6, 2018 ruling, the Seventh Circuit found that in the days following the alleged assault, “Davis tried several times to submit grievances complaining about the incident, but none were processed.” Davis’ first two grievances resulted in his receiving “Return of Grievance” forms, saying they would not be processed because they raised a ...
by Derek Gilna
After serving a 16-year sentence for forcible sodomy and forcible oral copulation, California state prisoner Sherman D. Manning was released on parole in February 2016 under the custody of the state’s Division of Adult Parole Operations. Following months of harassment and retaliation by that agency, Manning, with ...
by R. Bailey
New Mexico’s Otero County Board of County Commissioners agreed to pay a former Otero County Detention Center (OCDC) pretrial detainee $2 million to settle a civil rights lawsuit that alleged punishment without due process.
The suit claimed that OCDC had a policy or practice of placing mentally ...
by Steve Horn
A new study published by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) – the first of its kind – reports that unemployment in the U.S. has hit former prisoners the hardest.
Titled “Out of Prison & Out of Work,” the report, released in July 2018, crunched survey data to show that 27 percent of an estimated five million ex-offenders nationwide are unemployed – or around 1,350,000 people. That compares to an overall national unemployment rate of around four percent.
The Prison Policy Initiative obtained its data from the National Former Prisoner Survey, conducted in 2008 under the auspices of the Prison Rape Elimination Act. That data, not available online, is stored in a warehouse at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.
To put the ex-prisoner unemployment rate in context, it is “higher than the total U.S. unemployment rate during any historical period, including the Great Depression,” the PPI report explains. And it’s not a matter of being voluntarily unemployed or laziness, as critics often claim of those who lack a job.
“Our estimate of the unemployment rate establishes that formerly incarcerated people want to work, but face structural barriers to ...
On March 15, 2018, Lambda Legal, an organization that advocates for LGBT rights, announced the settlement of a lawsuit brought by a male-to-female transgender Texas prisoner who was beaten and raped while serving 14 years in all-male facilities.
After Passion Star, 34, told Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) staff she was being assaulted and raped by another prisoner, that prisoner slashed her face with a razor eight times. During the assault, the prisoner called Star a “snitching faggot.” With the assistance of Lambda Legal, she filed suit against the TDCJ in 2014. She was not moved to a safe housing unit until the following year, then was released on parole in June 2017.
According to court documents, Star repeatedly reported that she was beaten and sexually abused by other prisoners. TDCJ staff told her to “fight” or “stop acting gay” in response to the dozens of grievances, complaints and requests to be placed in safe housing that Star filed.
“Passion experienced brutal violence, degradation, and discrimination in prison. She is a transgendered woman who was forced to live in terror in a men’s prison and the officials charged with her care refused to take steps to keep her ...
by Dale Chappell
A sua sponte dismissal for lack of jurisdiction by a state Superior Court was improper, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court held on April 19, 2018, when the record was “otherwise devoid” of any indication the Superior Court lacked jurisdiction in the case.
Steve Anctil, a state prisoner, filed a pro se petition under Maine Rule of Civil Procedure 80C, seeking review of a disciplinary decision by the Department of Corrections (DOC). He argued that the DOC committed several procedural and constitutional errors, and asked the Superior Court to vacate the DOC’s decision and award damages. Anctil also filed an application to proceed without payment of fees, with an attached certificate of his prison trust account.
The Superior Court, however, was not inclined to hear the case. Without any input from the DOC and on its own initiative, the Court dismissed Anctil’s petition with a single sentence: “After review of the pleadings the Court orders: case dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.” The Court did not indicate why it lacked jurisdiction, and Anctil appealed.
A court may dismiss a case for lack of jurisdiction only when it is clear from the petition, or when a party raises the ...
by Derek Gilna
Julie Bilotta obtained a settlement from the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre in the Canadian province of Ontario after staff took nine hours to call emergency personnel when she went into early labor. Her son, Gionni, suffered a traumatic birth in September 2012, and succumbed to chronic breathing problems around a year later. [See: PLN, Oct. 2016, p.63].
Bilotta, who was eight months pregnant and in custody for probation violations on drug charges, began to go into labor about 11 a.m., but the nurse on duty failed to react to her pleas for help. According to Bilotta’s mother, Kim Hurtubise, “She was screaming, she was in a locked-down cell with another inmate ... inmates were saying ‘help her’ and they didn’t come into her cell until 5 p.m. The ambulance showed up an hour later and the baby was hanging by the feet,” she said.
“The baby was bruised from the waist down,” Hurtubise added. “They had to put the baby on a ventilator to breathe. They thought he was having seizures, they had to do a CT scan. My daughter had to have a blood transfusion.” Gionni’s short life was marked by a ...
Arizona: The Pima County Board of Supervisors passed a historic resolution on December 19, 2017 to prohibit the county from entering into contracts with private prison companies like CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) and GEO Group. “Big for-profit corporations operate on the cheap by cutting [salaries of] correctional officers and other corners, which reduces public safety and creates costs we still must pay,” said Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías, who sponsored the resolution. The American Friends Service Committee’s Arizona office, which opposes prison privatization, praised the county’s resolution in a press release, saying it “welcomes this positive step forward” and “hopes that this action will spur dialogue among other cities and towns about the trends in private prison companies seeking such contracts.”
Arizona: Police interrogation videos released on December 31, 2017 shed light on the motive behind a pair of August 2017 firebomb attacks at the Maricopa County Fourth Avenue Jail. As cameras rolled, Michael Arreola spoke with detectives, saying, “Yesterday morning, I just said I’m going to go and mess up these corrupt police officers’ jail,” before detailing the process he used to make Molotov cocktails which he then threw at the jail building in ...