by Barbara Koeppel, The Washington Spectator
Responding to several highly-publicized sex crimes and public fears, legislatures across the country have adopted statutes that allow the continued imprisonment of sex offenders after they have completed their sentences. Veteran investigative reporter Barbara Koeppel has spent the past 12 months reporting on this third rail of the criminal justice system. Here are her findings.
Since the 1990s, 20 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws that direct the attorneys general in these jurisdictions to appoint professionals to evaluate whether sex offenders who have served their time have a mental abnormality or illness that would make them likely to re-offend.
If the decision is yes, the men are re-incarcerated – not for past crimes but for ones they might yet commit – in prison-like facilities with barbed wire, cells, guards and watch towers. While institutionalized, they receive therapy that, theoretically, will help them control their sexual impulses.
The practice is known as civil commitment.
The crimes that inspired this legislation were indeed brutal: In Washington state, Earl Shriner, who was imprisoned for sex offenses against children, completed his sentence and later raped and mutilated a young boy. The state then passed the ...
by Derek Gilna
On July 30, 2018, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a partial summary judgment order issued by a district court that found the Sheriff of Cook County, Illinois liable for various violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
After holding an evidentiary hearing on the issue of liability and injunctive relief, the district court had referred the remaining issues to a jury to determine damages. [See: PLN, Dec. 2017, p.56]. The appellate court set that order and the jury verdicts aside, and remanded the case for a trial on the merits.
As noted in the Seventh Circuit’s opinion, the five plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit “contend that Cook County and Thomas J. Dart, the Sheriff, failed to provide reasonable modifications with respect to two structural barriers at the courthouses: ramps and bathroom facilities. In order to access the courthouses for their monthly appearances, the [incarcerated] plaintiffs had to traverse steep entrance and exit ramps in their wheelchairs. Once inside, they waited in holding cells until their cases were called, which could take several hours. The holding cells contained bathroom facilities – typically a combination sink and toilet, set off by a ...
by Paul Wright
Prison Legal News published its first issue in May 1990. The month before that, Washington became the first state in the nation to enact a civil commitment process for sex offenders and to create a sex offender registry. Those laws were passed shortly after a mentally ill sex offender named Earl Kenneth Shriner kidnapped, raped and mutilated an eight-year-old boy in Tacoma, and Gene Raymond Kane, a sex offender on work release in Seattle, kidnapped, raped and killed a woman named Diane Ballasiotes. Diane’s mother, Ida Ballasiotes, became a victims’ rights advocate who was later elected to the state legislature, where she headed the misnamed House Corrections Committee. We reported all this at the time in PLN, and almost 30 years later we have seen sex offender registries spread nationally, with civil commitment laws being enacted by almost half the states.
All the critiques we made in the 1990s when these statutes were first picking up steam have pretty much been borne out. We have repeatedly noted that civil commitment for the purported purpose of providing sex offender treatment has been a giant lie perpetrated by the government and willingly believed by the judiciary. After all, if ...
by David M. Reutter
Illinois’ Whiteside County Jail (WCJ) agreed to pay $750,000 to settle a civil rights action alleging jail officials failed to treat Walter E. Divers, Jr. for severe alcohol withdrawal, resulting in his death.
Divers, 28, was arrested for failing to pay fines or appear in ...
by Mariame Kaba and Kelly Hayes, Truthout.org
Our current historical moment demands a radical re-imagining of how we address various harms. The levers of power are currently in the hands of an administration that is openly hostile to the most marginalized in our society (Black people, Native people, the poor, LGBTQ people, immigrant communities and more). While we protect ourselves from their consistent and regular blows, we must also fight for a vision of the world we want to inhabit. For us, that’s a world where people like Tiffany Rusher, who began a five-year sentence at Logan Correctional Center in Broadwell Township, Illinois in 2013, are not tortured to death in the name of “safety.” Our vision insists on the abolition of the prison industrial complex as a critical pillar of the creation of a new society.
Imprisoned on charges related to sex work, Tiffany Rusher was eventually placed in solitary confinement for getting into a physical struggle with one of her cellmates. During her time in solitary confinement, Rusher’s mental health began to deteriorate, initiating a cycle of self-harm. After a series of suicide attempts and periods of solitary confinement, Rusher was placed on “crisis watch” for ...
A settlement was reached in a civil rights action alleging guards at Alabama’s Madison County Jail (MCJ) used excessive force on a mentally ill prisoner during a cell extraction.
Haraesheo Rice, 31, was well known to MCJ staff, who were aware he suffered from mental health problems that included schizophrenia ...
by Kevin W. Bliss
A U.S. District Court has ordered the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) to come up with an acceptable solution to address deplorable living conditions in the state’s prison system before the federal government steps in and does it for them. Alabama prisons have long been plagued with violence and overcrowding. [See: PLN, Aug. 2018, p.30; June 2017, p.51; Dec. 2015, p.42].
In June 2014, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP) filed a class-action suit against the ADOC, claiming the poor level of mental health care provided to prisoners violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
The lack of treatment and resulting violence was due in large part to systemic overcrowding and understaffing. The Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women alone went from 60 percent of open staff positions filled to 35 percent over a six-year period. A report prepared by the ADOC showed a correlation between the decrease of prison staff and increase in prisoner violence.
Under a March 2016 partial settlement in the lawsuit, the ADOC said it would ensure that prisoners with disabilities received services and programs required under the Americans with ...
by Panagioti Tsolkas
More than three years after a controversial environmental review process for a new federal prison, conducted by the federal Bureau of Prisons and its consulting firm Cardno, attorneys filed suit in November 2018 on behalf of 21 federal prisoners spread across the country. The plaintiffs claim they were not properly informed about plans to construct the $444 million prison on top of a former coal mine in Letcher County, Kentucky, next to an active mine and coal sludge pond, where they could be housed once the facility is built. The Abolitionist Law Center (ALC), an organization that advocates for prisoners’ rights, is listed as both a plaintiff and counsel in the case.
The complaint was filed following multiple delays in the prison construction project caused by challenges from local land owners and advocacy organizations – including the Human Rights Defense Center, PLN’s parent organization – which initially coordinated opposition efforts that generated tens of thousands of public comments opposing the facility. [See: PLN, Oct. 2015, p.30].
The lawsuit states that federal prisoners should have been considered parties with legally-required access to documents, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS ...
by Derek Gilna
Two federal lawsuits were filed by South Dakota prisoners in May and June 2018 against the state Department of Corrections (DOC) over the introduction of tablet computers to replace prison law libraries and paralegals and attorneys who assist prisoners. Billed as a cost-saving measure, the tablets are prone to malfunctions, one lawsuit complained, while the other alleged the use of the tablets resulted in a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
In September 2017 the DOC closed its prison law libraries and canceled its legal assistance contracts when the state’s 3,000 prisoners each received a free tablet computer – one that provides access to legal research services through Lexis/Nexis. The tablets also allow longer phone calls and text messaging with people on the outside, and permit prisoners to purchase subscriptions to movies and music.
One of the lawsuits, filed by prisoner Rex Gard, argued that the Lexis/Nexis access has been, “despite frequent assurances that repairs were underway, only intermittently active since 2017, leaving many inmates with no access to the case law and statutes theoretically available on the tablets.” See: Gard v. Fluke, U.S.D.C. (D. SD), Case No ...
The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee agreed to pay $550,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging a guard at the Davidson County Male Correctional Development Center (CDC) used excessive force on a pretrial detainee, leaving him a quadriplegic.
Edgar Mhoon was arrested in April 2015 following a ...
by Dale Chappell
In May 2018, Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy signed into law SB-13, a bill that will bring fairness and dignity to women and transgender prisoners, his office said.
The bill, which received unanimous votes in both chambers of the General Assembly, specifies that women prisoners will not be shackled during labor, and that the Department of Correction will establish child-friendly visitation policies as well as prenatal and parenting support for the nearly 80 percent of women prisoners who have minor children. Free feminine hygiene products will be provided by the DOC, and non-medical male employees will be restricted from viewing women prisoners while they dress or shower.
“All people deserve to be treated with dignity, empathy, and respect, and incarcerated women are no exception,” Governor Malloy said. “We are working every day to fix the haunting legacy of mass incarceration, and this is another step in the right direction.”
Incarcerated women are “trapped” in a system that was not designed for them, State Rep. Robyn Porter added. “Governor Malloy’s signing of this legislation not only gives these women a platform for successful reentry, but more importantly it restores them with the dignity and respect needed ...
by Christopher Zoukis
Under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), guards at the Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, Texas are provided by Ahtna Support and Training Services – a subsidiary of Ahtna, Inc., which is one of 13 Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) created by Congress for the benefit of Alaskan Native peoples. [See: PLN, Nov. 2010, p.38]. But with the Port Isabel facility holding some immigrant parents forcibly separated from their children by ICE under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy toward illegal immigration, Ahtna finds itself trapped in a public relations quandary.
Parallels between the administration’s policy and the federal government’s historic forced separation of Native Americans, both children from their families and tribes from their ancestral lands, are problematic for Ahtna.
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) released a statement strongly condemning the Trump administration’s “forced separation of immigrant children from their families,” calling the policy a reminder of “a dark period for many Native American families.”
“For decades, the U.S. government stole Native children from their parents and forced them into boarding schools hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles away,” NCAI president Jefferson Keel said in a June ...
by Derek Gilna
In an August 23, 2018 opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed in part and remanded a district court’s dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a former Cook County, Illinois prisoner who alleged jail officials had confiscated books and magazines sent to him by a friend.
Gregory Koger, who was held at the Cook County jail for 300 days in 2013, and his friend, Barbara Lyons, alleged that jail officials had “violated the First Amendment ... by limiting inmates to three pieces of reading matter (plus religious material) at a time,” and by confiscating more than 30 books from Koger. [See: PLN, June 2016, p.40].
The jail argued – and the district court agreed – that Lyons lacked standing to sue, that her donations of books all ended up in Koger’s hands (even though they were later confiscated) and that the jail’s policy did not affect any of her legal interests. The jail also argued that since Koger had been released, he lacked justiciable claims for an injunction; further, he could not raise a damages claim due to the rulings in Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527 (1981) and Hudson ...
by Ed Lyon
The Montgomery County Jail in Dayton, Ohio faces liabilities exceeding $10 million, as lawsuits continue to multiply.
Former chief deputy Scott Landis testified to having no memory of any of the incidents that gave rise to a spate of lawsuits over issues ranging from wrongful deaths and uses of force to medical indifference and conditions of confinement. In response to various deposition questions, Landis pleaded the Fifth Amendment at his attorney’s direction rather than provide answers.
Despite Landis’ testimony that training sessions for jailers were never held, Sheriff Phil Plummer stated: “We meet and exceed all training standards.... We meet and exceed all policies – national, state, local policies. So we’re on par with all that stuff. Short of the proper resources, the employees [at the jail] are doing a good job.” However, the following “dirty dozen” cases involving incidents at the Montgomery County Jail indicate otherwise.
Robert Richardson: Jailers who responded to Richardson’s cell to provide medical aid placed him on his stomach, cuffed his hands behind him and then knelt on his back, “essentially” crushing him to death, according to a still-pending lawsuit that is scheduled to go to trial in January 2019.
by Steve Horn
He’s the descendant of a slave and the son of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who was the lead attorney in the landmark 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education, which desegregated U.S. public schools. An attorney who served as White House Cabinet Secretary during President Clinton’s administration, Thurgood Marshall, Jr. also sits on the board of directors of CoreCivic, the nation’s largest for-profit prison company.
Marshall, Jr. has held a board position with CoreCivic – formerly Corrections Corporation of America – since 2002, though that has seldom been mentioned in the mainstream media. One criminal justice-focused news outlet, The Marshall Project – named after Thurgood Marshall – has only once reported on Marshall, Jr.’s affiliation with CoreCivic, burying it at the very bottom of an article titled “What You Need to Know About the Private Prison Phase-Out.”
In 2018 The Marshall Project received a $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, a multi-million dollar philanthropic organization that acts as a major funder of criminal justice reform in the United States. As it turns out, that same year Marshall, Jr. was finishing up his second of two six-year terms on the Ford ...
On November 15, 2018, the Human Rights Defense Center, PLN’s parent organization, as well as the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, Florida and the law firm of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, announced a settlement in a lawsuit filed against the sheriff’s office in Palm Beach County.
In an unprecedented victory, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office agreed to effectively end solitary confinement for juvenile offenders at the county jail. Both the sheriff’s office and the Palm Beach County School Board will ensure that all juveniles receive access to appropriate educational services; they will receive schooling outside of their cells, and alternative behavior management policies will be employed in lieu of holding juveniles in solitary. The sheriff’s office and school board further agreed to independent monitoring to ensure compliance with the settlement agreement.
The class-action lawsuit was filed in federal court on June 21, 2018 on behalf of all juvenile offenders who were held in solitary at the Palm Beach County Jail for upwards of 23 hours a day for weeks, months and in some cases over a year. Many of those juveniles suffered from mental health disabilities that were exacerbated by the conditions of their confinement and long-term ...
by R. Bailey
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988, a federal district court was asked to resolve an attorney fees dispute as part of a settlement in a prisoner’s wrongful death case.
Robert Awalt died while in the custody of a jail in Grundy County, Illinois. His wife, Elizabeth Awalt, had already contacted the jail upon his arrest and advised them that Robert needed epileptic medications and 24-hour observation.
However, when Robert pleaded for medical assistance, the officers taunted him and told him “you’re in jail, deal with it.” They left him unattended and later found him unconscious after swallowing a sock during one of his seizures. He died on September 20, 2010 due to asphyxiation.
Elizabeth filed a wrongful death suit in federal court. The jail settled prior to trial. Dr. Stephen Cullinan – who had been implicated in the deaths of other prisoners in multiple states and agreed to the suspension of his medical license in 2014 – reached a separate settlement after his first trial ended in a hung jury. [See: PLN, April 2015, p.40]. The jail’s medical providers, Correctional Healthcare Companies, Inc. (CHC) and Healthcare Professionals, Ltd. (HPL), settled soon thereafter.
by Christopher Zoukis
An investigative report issued in August 2018 by two advocacy groups, Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) and the Parole Preparation Project (PPP), found significant problems with the New York State Board of Parole’s (BOP) policies, practices and political dynamics that have led the board to deny release to a majority of parole-eligible offenders.
New York currently has about 22,000 prisoners serving indeterminate sentences. Of those, around 12,000 appear before the BOP each year for parole eligibility determinations. Although 19 positions are authorized, the BOP operates with only 12 commissioners, each appointed by the governor to a six-year term. Overworked commissioners with large caseloads make hasty and uninformed parole decisions, the report said, with “devastating consequences for people in prison and their loved ones.”
Finding that the BOP “systematically fails to properly consider the age and rehabilitation” of prisoners eligible for parole, the report noted the board instead focuses almost exclusively on the nature of the prisoner’s crime in making parole decisions – disregarding “the many accomplishments of the applicant and their often categorically low risk for recidivism,” and instead denying their freedom “based on a single, unchanging moment that occurred decades ago ...
by Dale Chappell
The FBI arrested seven people, including five Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC) guards, for conspiring to smuggle drugs, tobacco and cell phones into state prisons.
In January 2017, an undercover FBI agent approached an IDOC contract nurse who had previously been caught smuggling contraband. The nurse put the agent in contact with four guards who could help traffic contraband into IDOC facilities. Guards Richard McCollough, Eric Thompson, Timothy Landon and Robert Wallin all agreed to help with the scheme.
The guards wore their IDOC uniforms during the supposed drug deals to ward off suspicious cops. McCollough and Thompson even brought along their guns during some of the deals. The group intended to smuggle methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin into the prison system.
“The services provided by McCollough, Thompson and Landon included acting as security at what they believed to be drug deliveries and payment dropoffs, weighing drugs, counting money, preparing drugs for delivery, [and] transporting a load of drugs for the drug-trafficking organization,” said U.S. Attorney Bart Davis.
The FBI got involved when IDOC director Henry Atencio complained to the U.S. Attorney’s office that his employees were smuggling drugs. FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric ...
by Kevin W. Bliss
In June 2018, Sheriff Todd Entrekin withdrew from his re-election campaign in Etowah County, Alabama, conceding to his only opponent, Rainbow City Police Chief Jonathon Horton. Entrekin will serve out the rest of his second term and hand over the position in January 2019. He withdrew under a cloud of suspicion, with a lawsuit pending against him and 48 other county sheriffs, filed by the Southern Center for Human Rights and the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice in January 2018, for failure to produce public records.
Entrekin refused to produce documents showing how money from his jail’s food account was being spent, stating only that prisoners are fed balanced, nutritious meals that are well above minimum calorie counts and respectful of religious restrictions. However, he also reported on ethics forms that he personally earned $250,000 in each of the past three years – in addition to his salary – by keeping excess funds not spent on food for prisoners’ meals.
Under a 1939 state law, a number of Alabama counties still turn the unused portion of their jail food account over to the sheriff for their personal benefit. [See: PLN, March 2018, p ...
by Steve Horn
On December 21, 2018, President Donald Trump signed into law the 56-page First Step Act (S. 756), a bill that will usher in an array of reforms within the federal criminal justice system. The bill went to the president’s desk just days after passing the Senate on an 87-12 vote.
Seen by its proponents as a major policy victory, others have cautioned that – while a positive step in the right direction – the legislation still leaves much to be desired. From the most sinister lens, critics point out it will likely benefit the private prison industry while excluding certain prisoners from some of its beneficial provisions.
The First Step Act has 36 distinct sections which address many aspects of federal sentencing and prison-related policies. They range from placing prisoners in facilities closer to their families to sentencing reform and de-escalation training for guards, plus creating a risk and needs assessment system. The bill also calls for studies on medication-assisted opioid addiction treatment for prisoners, and an expansion and accompanying audit of Federal Prison Industries (UNICOR), the Bureau of Prisons’ industry work program.
“Everybody said it couldn’t be done,” Trump said at the bill’s signing ceremony ...
by Kevin W. Bliss
After releasing a 67-page investigative report in May 2018 on the use of solitary confinement by the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) and the effects of solitary on prisoners, especially those with mental health issues, the ACLU of Virginia called on Governor Ralph Northam to curb the use of segregation.
In its report, “Silent Injustice,” the ACLU said it found that one in every 20 prisoners in state prisons had spent time in isolation, with the average stay lasting 2.7 years. Solitary confinement in the VDOC – officially known as “restrictive housing” – keeps a prisoner in a locked cell 22 to 24 hours a day with few privileges. Officially, solitary is used to punish rule infractions, to hold high-risk prisoners or to protect prisoners from each other. But the ACLU argued it is also used to house the mentally ill and exact retribution against prisoners who file grievances.
The ACLU’s report contends that segregation has especially detrimental effects on prisoners with mental health issues, resulting in feelings of panic, hallucinations and paranoia. For the 15 percent of VDOC prisoners being treated for some type of mental health issue – and the ACLU says ...
In June 2018, the U.S. Attorney’s Office reached a $75,689 settlement with a couple accused of trying to scam the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) into buying textbooks it had not ordered.
The civil complaint alleged John P. Ryan and Marie Motz Ryan operated Scholars in Print, a sole proprietorship that used telemarketing to sell textbooks to libraries, educational institutions and federal and state prisons, among other entities, from its office in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania. The complaint also covered conduct involving the Ryans prior to the 2014 sale of African American Publications, which engaged in similar activity as Scholars in Print.
The Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General conducted an investigation into both businesses. It found that Scholars in Print demanded payment from BOP facilities in Marianna and Pensacola, Florida; Alderson, West Virginia; Ray Brook, New York and Washington, D.C., for “textbooks that the facilities did not order or agree to purchase during unsolicited telemarketing calls.”
Even when prison officials rejected the telemarketing offers, Scholars in Print would send textbooks to the facilities, bill them, and then turn the bills over to collection agencies. At other times, the business would offer to send free ...
On July 10, 2018, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) had violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) by refusing to accommodate dietary restrictions required by a prisoner’s Nazarite Jewish faith.
As part of his religion, state prisoner DeAndre Williams believes he must consume a grape free, egg free, vegetarian kosher diet. He also is dairy intolerant. DOCCS accommodated Williams’ dairy allergy, but regularly did so in ways that violated his religious needs. For example, it replaced Williams’ cream cheese with grape jelly or his cheese with meat.
Due to his efforts to follow his faith’s dietary restrictions, Williams mainly confined his diet to hot cereal, bread, fruit, vegetables, soup and peanut butter. He tried to trade food he could not eat with other prisoners, but that was discouraged by guards.
Williams began filing grievances concerning his dietary issues in 2002, and after repeated denials he filed suit in federal court in 2011. DOCCS moved for summary judgment, arguing that accommodating his religious diet was “extremely expensive and administratively burdensome.” While the district court found Williams was sincere in his religious beliefs and that ...
by Christopher Zoukis
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has held that the First Amendment protects both a prisoner’s right not to snitch and his or her right not to provide false information to prison officials. The May 9, 2018 opinion established new precedent in the Second Circuit; even though the plaintiff lost the case on qualified immunity grounds, future prisoners who are similarly situated will likely prevail.
New York state prisoner Mark Burns was working in the commissary at the Coxsackie Correctional Facility when a can of spaghetti fell on his head. He suffered a scratch and bruises on his neck. He reported the incident to prison staff, resulting in the filing of an Inmate Injury Report that detailed the accident and his injuries.
The next day, Sergeant Noeh and Captain Shanley approached Burns and told him his wife had called the institution to report that Burns had been “cut” by a fellow prisoner. He denied any such altercation, and suggested that his wife had not called the prison. He also told the guards he was injured by a falling can, the injury was witnessed by one of the commissary guards and an Inmate Injury ...
by Matt Clarke
In January 2018, Cibola County, New Mexico agreed to pay $5 million to settle a lawsuit over the death of a jail prisoner who was repeatedly denied medical treatment despite vomiting and defecating blood.
Douglas Edmisten, 50, was arrested on misdemeanor charges and booked into the Cibola County Detention Center (CCDC). Shortly after 10 p.m. on July 7, 2016, he told jailers he had severe abdominal pain and was vomiting blood. He was ignored. Other prisoners began advocating for him; one even smeared blood that Edmisten had vomited on the pod’s windows to emphasize the emergency. Lt. Gilbert Gonzales told them to return to their bunks. Finally, at 10:54 p.m., medical staff member Casey Salvador escorted Edmisten to the jail’s infirmary.
Salvador was told about Edmisten’s abdominal pain and vomiting. She even observed one episode when he threw up blood. Salvador noted he had a pulse of 144 beats per minutes, which was a very elevated heart rate. She contacted RN Michael Hildebrandt, the jail’s Health Services Authority, and informed him of Edmisten’s condition. Hildebrandt told her to return him to his pod without treatment.
Edmisten continued to vomit blood and other prisoners continued ...
by Derek Gilna
On August 20, 2018, the Seventh Circuit granted a new trial to a prisoner whose multiple motions for appointment of counsel were denied in a federal lawsuit against guards employed by the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Fredrick Walker, incarcerated at the maximum-security Pontiac Correctional Center, claimed that on August 21, 2013, Timothy Price, a guard who was charged with delivering his meal, dropped his tray. After Walker objected to the lack of a replacement meal, he alleged that he was forcibly extracted from his cell, transferred to a more restrictive unit and beaten by other guards.
Walker filed a federal civil rights suit, alleging that “Officers Price, French, and Stahl violated his Eighth Amendment rights by using excessive force, failing to intervene to stop the use of excessive force, and exhibiting deliberate indifference” to his need for medical care. Walker informed the district court that he had mental health problems, little knowledge of the law or access to legal resources, and was being assisted by a “jailhouse lawyer who helped him with research and drafting” his pleadings.
His six requests for appointment of counsel over the course of the litigation were denied; the case eventually went to ...
by Monte McCoin
On March 7, 2018, President Trump issued an executive order that launched the Federal Interagency Council on Crime Prevention and Improving Reentry. The order revoked a presidential memorandum that had established a similar Federal Interagency Reentry Council as a U.S. Department of Justice initiative during the Obama administration.
Trump’s executive order formed the new council to “provide those who have engaged in criminal activity with greater opportunities to lead productive lives,” by identifying strategies to reduce both crime and recidivism through programs that address “mental health, vocational training, job creation, after-school programming, substance abuse, and mentoring” for people who have been in prison. According to the order, “Incarceration is necessary to improve public safety, but its effectiveness can be enhanced through evidence-based rehabilitation programs.”
Trump called for the heads of multiple federal agencies to serve as council members, including executives from the Department of Labor, Department of Agriculture, Department of the Treasury, Department of the Interior, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Commerce, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Education, Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Office of Management and Budget. Andrew Bremberg ...
In November 2018, shareholder resolutions were filed with CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, and The GEO Group – the nation’s two largest private prison companies – that would prohibit them from housing immigrant detainee children who have been separated from their parents, or parents separated from their children.
CoreCivic and GEO operate a number of immigration detention centers under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. While the companies have denied that they house children separated from their parents, the resolutions note they “may change that policy in the future or may enter into future contracts to house separated immigrant children and/or parents.”
According to recent news reports, immigrant families are still being separated at the U.S.-Mexico border and the Trump administration is “actively considering” plans to renew separation efforts.
CoreCivic and GEO have had “a controversial history with respect to housing immigrant detainees,” the resolutions’ supporting statements noted. For example, “A CoreCivic employee was convicted of sexually abusing multiple female detainees at the Company’s T. Don Hutto Residential Center. Immigrant detainees have staged protests and hunger strikes at CoreCivic detention centers. There ...
by Monte McCoin
The Harvard Organization for Prison Education and Advocacy, a student-led group known as HOPE, was established in the 1950s as part of Harvard University’s Phillips Brooks House Association. Since its inception the organization has provided tutoring and educational programs for incarcerated men, women and juveniles, but in recent years it has expanded its focus to include a wide range of advocacy projects.
“It’s really anything that has to do with criminal justice reform,” said Leah S. Yared, who serves as HOPE’s educational co-director.
Twice in 2018, HOPE sponsored events to raise awareness concerning the use (and misuse) of solitary confinement as a correctional management practice. For each of the 24 hours between April 19 and 20, 2018, and again on November 29 and 30, student volunteers from the organization individually occupied taped-off 7-by-9-foot rectangles that had been set up in various locations across the Harvard campus. For the duration of the day-long vigils, which were intended to simulate the cramped conditions faced by prisoners held in control units, other volunteers were present and engaged with people who passed by to educate them about solitary confinement and circulate information about the organization’s advocacy campaigns.
Throughout the past ...
by Derek Gilna
Philippa Grace McCully, a 21-year-old college student and cancer survivor arrested in 2014 for erratic driving that she blamed on a reaction to various prescription psychiatric drugs, was taken to a jail in El Paso, Colorado for processing.
There, the 100-pound, 5-foot-tall woman was slammed to the floor while restrained, resulting in serious injuries; she was then refused prompt medical treatment.
McCully filed suit and, in July 2018, received settlements totaling $675,000 from the jail and $125,000 from its medical provider, Correct Care Solutions, LLC.
According to McCully’s civil rights complaint, a sheriff’s deputy “grabbed [her] feet and brutally pulled Plaintiff’s legs out from underneath and behind her, causing Plaintiff to slam forcibly onto the cell floor, audibly hitting her head and knees against the hard concrete surface ... at the same time [another deputy] pulled Plaintiff’s legs out from behind her, [and] excessively forcefully shoved Plaintiff down hard by her left shoulder using his right arm, simultaneously restraining her arms from behind....”
McCully further claimed that she “suffered severe injuries, including but not limited to a fractured left knee, left knee hyperextension with bone contusion, left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) avulsion tear, torn left ...
by Derek Gilna
In August 2018, a comprehensive audit report revealed that the private healthcare provider at Wisconsin’s Milwaukee County Jail and House of Correction (HOC) was not in compliance with the terms of a court-ordered consent decree requiring specific staffing levels for medical personnel. The time period under review coincided with the term of controversial sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr., who resigned in August 2017.
The audit, conducted by the Milwaukee County Office of the Comptroller, found the county jail system’s healthcare contractor, Miami-based Armor Correctional Health Services, never reached the staffing threshold needed to adequately treat and care for the 2,100 prisoners held at the jail and HOC.
The county is under a consent decree requiring it to maintain healthcare staffing levels at 95 percent. Instead, Armor’s overall staffing level averaged 89 percent for the 22-month review period, from November 2015 to August 2017. Understaffed positions included a psychologist, registered nurse and psychiatrist, the audit found. The company was fined for the shortfalls, but the report recommended increasing the fines.
Following the release of the audit, which was conducted at the request of Milwaukee County board chairman Theodore Lipscomb, Sr., he expressed his disappointment with Armor.
by Christopher Zoukis
A lawsuit alleging that private prison operator CoreCivic violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) by forcing immigrant detainees to work at one of the company’s detention centers will proceed in federal court. The class-action claim withstood a motion to dismiss on August 17, 2018.
CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, operates the Stewart Detention Center – an immigration facility in Stewart, Georgia. The detention center has nearly 2,000 beds and is one of the largest Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)-contracted facilities in the country. It also has a notorious reputation.
CoreCivic makes use of a “voluntary work program” at Stewart. Pursuant to that program, detainees who agree to perform various jobs maintaining the facility are paid between $1 and $4 per day. They also are afforded upgraded living conditions, which consist of showers with hot water, a toilet shared with one person (instead of 66 people) and a two-person cell instead of a dorm unit known as “the Chicken Coop.” Further, workers are able to earn money to purchase toilet paper and soap, which the CoreCivic-operated facility does not adequately provide.
Multiple detainees at Stewart filed a class-action suit alleging the company violated ...
by Ed Lyon
During April 2018, prisoners in six housing units at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla participated in a hunger strike that lasted up to 10 days. Over 1,300 prisoners reportedly took part – around half the facility’s population, excluding those who were elderly or ill. Their main complaints were the quality of food and its temperature when served. [See: PLN, Aug. 2018, p.1].
Until the 21st century, food service departments in Washington prisons prepared meals from scratch and exercised autonomous buying practices. That often meant local food service managers could take advantage of surplus food supplies at below bargain basement prices, which provided variety in meals and saved money. The food preparation skills that prisoners learned helped them develop marketable job skills they could use to obtain employment in the food service industry once released.
Washington State Correctional Industries (CI), the state’s prison industry program, has slowly yet inexorably edged out local prison meal preparation services, instead substituting pre-prepared heat-and-eat meals as well as cold packs called “breakfast boats,” which are given to prisoners at night to eat in the morning.
Rather than healthier fresh fruit, eggs and oatmeal breakfasts, CI’s “breakfast boats” ...
Prompted by claims of sexual abuse highlighted in a 2015 Miami Herald news report, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has launched an investigation into Florida’s Lowell Correctional Institution (LCI), the largest prison for women in the state and the second-largest in the nation.
The DOJ’s probe of LCI mirrors its 2013 investigation at Alabama’s Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women. PLN previously reported on the abuses at Tutwiler, where prisoners were subjected to a mix of understaffing, overcrowding, substandard healthcare and sexual abuse by staff members. The problems were so flagrant that the facility ranked as one of the nation’s ten worst prisons for two decades. [See: PLN, July 2015, p.46; Oct. 2013, p.26].
As a first step in addressing similar issues reported at LCI, in April 2018 the DOJ sent a letter announcing its investigation to Florida Governor Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) Secretary Julie Jones.
Three months later, the DOJ subpoenaed records ranging from policy and training manuals to a list of LCI employees who were terminated, transferred, suspended or had resigned as of July 2015, when the Herald published its investigative report titled “Beyond Punishment.”
by Mark Wilson
On July 24, 2018, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court held the state’s constitution requires adoption of a modified version of the “prisoner mailbox rule” when filing petitions for judicial review of prison disciplinary orders.
Maine prisoner Charles M. Martin was found guilty of a disciplinary infraction on April 25, 2016. Pursuant to 5 M.R.S. § 11002, he filed a petition for judicial review of that order by submitting it to prison authorities for mailing to the Superior Court on May 18, 2016. However, the court clerk did not receive the petition until May 26 – one day beyond the 30-day filing deadline imposed by § 11002(3).
The state moved to dismiss, arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction over the case because it was filed outside the 30-day deadline. Martin opposed the motion, urging the court to apply the prisoner mailbox rule established in Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266 (1988). Under that rule, Martin’s petition would have been deemed filed when he gave it to prison officials for mailing on May 18, 2016, rather than when it was received by the court clerk. Concluding that § 11002(3) is “jurisdictional and mandatory,” ...
by Derek Gilna
Six female prison guards employed by the New Mexico Corrections Department (DOC) at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility (CNMCF) in Los Lunas entered into a $2.5 million settlement with the department in late January 2018, though the terms of the agreement were not made public until July.
The six guards – Mary Kennedy, Niadra Lemons, Allison Eastman, Antoinette De La Cruz, Benita Joe and Nicole Romero – filed a complaint in state court in 2015 that alleged a “culture of physical aggression and open, ratified sexual misconduct” at CNMCF.
The lawsuit accused 25 current and former male DOC employees of “unthinkable and constant sexually based violence and harassment,” alleging they urinated and masturbated in front of the plaintiffs, fondled and groped them, screamed sexist comments and obscene names, propositioned them, and sent unwanted sexual pictures and videos. Although their actions were known to supervisory staff, no remedial action was taken.
One of the plaintiffs said male colleagues phoned her repeatedly at work, demanding sex and calling her a “fucking bitch.” Another reported that on a dry-erase board, in clear view of supervisors, was written the phrase: “If you don’t swallow then you should ...
by Ed Lyon
Joseph Leiser was in an Illinois jail pending extradition to Coffey County, Kansas. Because Leiser had been Tased by federal marshals, Coffey County jail administrator Shannon Moore asked Illinois officials to have him thoroughly examined, including chest X-rays and a CT scan, to see if he suffered any serious injuries as a result of the Tasing.
The examination revealed that Leiser had bone lesions and possibly cancer.
Moore and Sheriff Randy Rogers told the Coffey County Hospital and Leiser’s family about his medical condition, but neglected to first obtain Leiser’s permission to share that information.
Leiser sued Moore and Rogers in state court for disclosing his medical condition without his permission in violation of state statutes and his constitutional right to privacy.
The defendants had the case removed to federal court. Refusing to exercise supplemental (pendant) jurisdiction over the state law claims, the district court ruled against Leiser on his federal claims, finding the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity.
Leiser appealed to the Tenth Circuit on the sole issue of the district court’s dismissal of his right to privacy claim.
In a detailed September 6, 2018 ruling, the appellate court first explored the concept of a ...
by Derek Gilna
On August 30, 2018, the Vera Institute of Justice announced an expansion of federal assistance to provide housing for prisoners who are reentering society. The “Opening Doors to Public Housing Initiative,” a program funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), seeks to substantially increase the availability of post-release housing.
As noted by Margaret diZerega, project director at the Vera Institute of Justice, “All of society benefits when formerly incarcerated people are able to reintegrate safely and successfully back into the community.”
“By partnering with housing authorities, residents, law enforcement, and community partners, we can assess admissions policies for people with conviction histories and facilitate safe reentry,” she added.
Of the more than 600,000 people released from prison each year, and the 10 million who cycle in and out of local jails annually, a large number are freed with limited financial resources. If they lack family or friends to move in with after release, they require some form of housing in order to avoid homelessness. But in many places, the public housing authority (PHA) has restrictive policies that exclude people with criminal records.
The BJA’s new program is ...
by Dale Chappell
On March 14, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida ruled that a prisoner’s lawsuit against Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) guards could move forward, denying the FDOC’s motion for summary judgment.
Christopher Sanders filed suit in federal court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that FDOC staff violated his First, Fourth and Eighth Amendment rights when they retaliated against him after he filed grievances and his mother called prison administrators to complain.
In his detailed filings, Sanders stated in sworn declarations that staff continuously threatened him if he kept filing grievances, and denied him food and medical care. He argued that staff said they were going to “break” him of his “little habit” of filing grievances. The FDOC used cell extraction teams and excessive force to make their point, he added, even dragging him back into his cell for more beatings after he voluntarily left the cell when the extraction team arrived. He also alleged that guard John Green said he would keep receiving empty food trays until he stopped filing grievances. When Sanders alerted Assistant Warden Hope Gartman, he said she told him she didn’t care and it ...
$1 Million Award for Two Women Sexually Assaulted by Florida Jail Guard
A Florida federal jury awarded $1 million to two women who were sexually assaulted by a guard at the Bay County Jail (BCJ).
Brandy Carnley and Virginia Lindsey alleged in a May 2017 civil rights complaint that they ...
by Ed Lyon
Prisoners who peacefully advocate for their rights, such as by filing lawsuits and grievances, and engaging in non-violent protests, regularly risk retaliation by prison officials.
That was the case following a nationwide work strike that was called by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak (JLS) – a prisoners’ rights advocacy group – and other organizations, which lasted from August 21 to September 9, 2018. Through work stoppages, sit-downs and hunger strikes, as well as boycotts of phone services and commissaries, the protesting prisoners sought 10 basic reforms from lawmakers and prison officials:
• Improved prison conditions and policies that recognize the humanity of prisoners
• An end to prison slavery, and prevailing wages for prison work
• Repeal of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, a federal law that dramatically reduced the ability of prisoners to seek relief from the courts
• End life without parole sentences and repeal the Truth in Sentencing Act and Sentencing Reform Act
• Stop the disparate treatment of people of color with respect to crimes charged, sentences imposed and parole grant rates
• Repeal of gang enhancement laws targeting people of color
• Access to all rehabilitation programs regardless of the nature of a prisoner’s ...
by Ed Lyon
During the noon meal on February 5, 2014, Illinois prison guard Nathan Berry found alcohol and an altered TV in a property box in a cell shared by Osbaldo Jose-Nicolas and Edgar Diaz at the Menard Correctional Center.
Both prisoners were directed to a holding cell when they returned from lunch. When Jose-Nicolas answered a question from a passing prisoner, he and Diaz were handcuffed behind their backs. Diaz, then Jose-Nicolas, were led out of the cell. Lt. William Qualls struck Jose-Nicolas on his jaw, knocking him to the ground. Another guard picked him up and told Qualls to “take it out of the hallway.”
Berry and Qualls dragged Jose-Nicolas to a shower, slammed his head into a wall, then savagely beat and kicked him until he lost consciousness. Guard Matthew Purdom and Sgt. Justin Snell witnessed the brutal assault but did nothing to stop it.
When Jose-Nicolas came to, Berry dragged him from the cellhouse to segregation.
A tower guard told Qualls to take Jose-Nicolas to medical because he was unable to walk on his own. Qualls refused, instead taking Jose-Nicolas to another cellhouse, where he was seen by medical technician Aimee Lang. Lang refused ...
by Derek Gilna
In June 2018, Illinois lawmakers voted to end the practice of charging $5.00 co-payments to state prisoners for each medical visit – a disproportionate fee, since prison wages in the state range from $0.09 to $0.89 per hour. The move came shortly before the release of a scathing report that documented over a dozen preventable deaths among the 41,000 prisoners held by the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC).
The October 2018 report was prepared by court-appointed experts in a federal lawsuit, Lippert v. Ghosh. The experts said that compared to conditions when the case was filed in 2012, prison medical care is “either no better or in fact worse in 2018.” The suit was certified as a class-action in April 2017. [See: PLN, Feb. 2018, p.35].
Led by correctional health expert Dr. Mike Pusis, the report found that of 36 fatalities in the year ending June 1, 2014, more than one-third could have been prevented with adequate healthcare. The state chapter of the ACLU, which joined the case as a co-plaintiff in 2013, decried the unnecessary deaths.
“We knew four years ago that prisoners in Illinois were subject to needless pain ...
by David Reutter
On June 23, 2012, Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) guard Roland Clarke placed Darren Rainey, a prisoner at the Dade Correctional Institution (DCI), into a shower and locked the door. He then turned on the hot water using specially-rigged controls in another room. The 50-year-old Rainey, who suffered from schizophrenia, was being “cleaned” after defecating in his cell. Two hours later, when Clarke returned, he found Rainey dead with large amounts of his skin peeling off due to the scalding water. [See: PLN, Feb. 2016, pp.1,14].
The case went largely ignored for two years before it gained notoriety following an investigation and news report by the Miami Herald, which prompted Clarke to resign from the FDOC in 2014. He was quickly hired as a road patrol officer by the Miami Gardens Police Department.
Investigations by the department’s Internal Affairs (IA) office into his conduct since then have included an incident in which Clarke ran a red light in his police truck and crashed into another vehicle. He also was reprimanded in 2016 for calling a tow truck to remove a car that belonged to a drowning victim without securing a wallet and cell phone, which ...
by Matt Clarke
According to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Justice, about 11% of the state and federal prison population in 2016 was over age 55. Of those prisoners, numbering roughly 160,000, around 38,000 were 65 or older. The share of prisoners over age 50 is expected to swell from about 17% in 2013 to 33% by 2030.
States that have an even higher percentage of elderly prisoners include Massachusetts, where 17% of state prisoners are over 55. New York’s overall prison population fell by 17% between 2007 and 2016, but at the same time the number of prisoners age 50 or older rose by 46%, to include over 10,000 of the state’s more than 50,000 prisoners.
Older prisoners face unique safety hazards, plus other age-related problems – such as incontinence and dementia – are exacerbated in penal settings. They also require more healthcare services, which they have a constitutional right to receive under the Eighth Amendment. In Massachusetts, for example, the annual cost of caring for a single hospitalized prisoner is $283,000 – four times the cost of incarceration in a maximum-security facility.
The United States is not alone in ...
by Kevin W. Bliss
Sheriff Jimmy Brown and Captain Adam Brewer, with the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, were arrested in May 2018 following an investigation into inappropriate conduct.
At the request of 22nd District Attorney General Brent Cooper, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury began reviewing the activities of the Sheriff’s Office. They discovered that between 2015 and 2017, Sheriff Brown, 71, allowed various county employees to use jail prisoners to perform labor at their personal residences. In addition, he would release detainees without requiring them to post bond as ordered by the court. The sheriff also reportedly violated the law in connection with confiscated illegal moonshine and a still.
Captain Brewer was accused of falsifying timesheets and misleading investigators as to the accuracy of reported hours worked at the Sheriff’s Office.
A local grand jury returned indictments, charging Brown with two counts of official misconduct, one count of misuse of inmate labor for personal gain and one count of tampering with evidence. Brewer was charged with one count of official misconduct.
Brown, who was elected sheriff in August 2010 and re-elected in 2014, lost his re-election bid on August 2, 2018. Both he ...
by Monte McCoin
PLN previously reported the 2017 arrests of a trio of Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) guards for repeatedly and violently sexually abusing at least six female prisoners who had been housed at the federal jail in Brooklyn, New York. [See: PLN, Nov. 2017, p.1; Jan. 2018, p.63].
On January 19, 2018, former lieutenant Carlos Richard Martinez was convicted by a jury of sexual abuse, sexual abuse of a ward and violating the civil rights of his victim, a young Dominican woman who testified about the attacks under the pseudonym “Maria.” U.S. District Court Judge Edward R. Korman has not yet imposed sentence in the case.
Eugenio Perez, a lieutenant in charge of training MDC staff on policies and procedures required by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), was convicted by a jury on May 14, 2018 for raping five other women who had been incarcerated at MDC. Perez could face life in prison for his crimes.
On November 8, 2017, the third federal jailer caught up in the scandal, former guard Armando Moronta, pleaded guilty to four counts of sexual abuse of a ward for attacks on three female prisoners. At the same time ...
Alaska: Illness among state prisoners exposed to tainted lettuce was key to solving a nationwide E. coli outbreak in April 2018. Eight prisoners at the Anvil Mountain Correctional Center were stricken by an especially nasty strain of the bacteria, though none were hospitalized or died. The outbreak sickened more than 50 people in at least 16 states. The controlled environment at the prison in Nome helped state officials quickly identify whole heads of romaine lettuce as the culprit. That was crucial because the nation’s other cases had been linked to chopped romaine lettuce, according to Joe McLaughlin, a state epidemiologist. The lettuce in those cases had been handled by multiple companies, making it difficult to trace it back to a specific farm. The prison “had one supplier of lettuce, so we were able to follow the lettuce back through the supply chain to a farm in Yuma, AZ, faster than other places [around the country],” said Jeremy Ayers, a Department of Environmental Conservation section manager.
Arizona: Florence Police Department Detective Dan Helsdingen responded to a February 5, 2018 tip from a concerned homeowner who witnessed an adult male “making out” with a young female in an area near his ...