by Greg Dober
Like most other individuals, prisoners sometimes need medical attention for ailments, injuries and diseases. However, there appears to be a misconception about prisoners’ medical rights among physicians, medical administrators, prison and jail staff, and law enforcement officials. This article will review some of the medical rights and court rulings that are pertinent to prisoners, including issues such as medical decision-making, medical information privacy, force-feeding and forcible medical procedures.
There have been several landmark rulings regarding healthcare and incarceration. Two of the seminal cases are Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976) and Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994). In Estelle, the U.S. Supreme Court established the standards that a prisoner must prove for an Eighth Amendment claim of cruel and unusual punishment related to inadequate medical care. In a dissenting opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens stated in a footnote: “If a State elects to impose imprisonment as a punishment for crime, I believe it has an obligation to provide the persons in its custody with a healthcare system which meets minimal standards of adequacy.”
The Supreme Court’s decision in Farmer held that a prison official’s deliberate indifference to a substantial risk ...
by Paul Wright
I am excited to report that The Habeas Citebook: Prosecutorial Misconduct, by former HRDC staff attorney Alissa Hull, is now available for purchase and shipping. Building on the success and popularity of The Habeas Citebook: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel,this book provides clear, concise information needed to challenge criminal convictions procured by unscrupulous prosecutors. Ordering information is included in this issue of PLN. This book is the perfect holiday gift for the pro se prisoner litigant as well as the experienced attorney who does post-conviction litigation; it provides a 50-state review of case law as well as federal citations. A big thanks to everyone at HRDC who worked on getting it to press.
By now all PLN subscribers should have received our annual fundraiser packet; if you have not donated yet, please do so! We rely on your support to help fund our advocacy and litigation around issues as diverse as prison telephone rates, education for prisoners, felon disenfranchisement, censorship by prison and jail officials, and much more. Please encourage others to donate as well, or to subscribe to Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News.
Every dollar donated to HRDC helps build our ...
by Kevin Bliss
In March 2019, nine Alabama prisoners went on a hunger strike after being placed in solitary confinement without being given any reason other than “preventative measures.”
The prisoners, members of Convicts Against Violence or the Free Alabama Movement, were housed at the St. Clair Correctional Facility when the prison was raided by 300 guards searching for contraband. The search resulted in 30 prisoners being transferred to the Holman Correctional Facility with 10 being held in solitary at the recommendation of Warden Cynthia Stewart.
Robert Earl Council, also known as Kinetic Justice, was the first to go on a hunger strike to protest his treatment, demanding to be returned to general population. He was followed by eight others who also wanted to know why they were placed in solitary. Attorney Donna Smalley, representing the group, said none of the prisoners had committed any infraction that required their placement in solitary. It seemed the only reason they were moved was because they were activists and organizers.
“I am on a peaceful hunger strike. I am not suicidal ... but I’m doing this because I’m being held in Holman Correctional Facility segregation without any justifiable reasons why I was taken ...
by Mark Wilson
An Oregon state court held on May 28, 2019 that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to a transgender prisoner’s physical safety when they failed to house her in a single cell or with other transgender or non-cisgender (gender non-conforming) cellmates.
Brandy Hall, 34, formerly known as Brandon Nelson, entered prison in 2007 as a male. Hall was transferred to the Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla in 2009 and remained there until being transferred to the Oregon State Correctional Institution.
While incarcerated, Hall was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a condition in which people identify as a gender different from the one they were assigned at birth. Hall has presented as a woman since 2014 and has undergone hormone therapy since 2016, according to court records. As a result of that therapy, Hall has female physical features, including breasts. She also has changed her name to fit her gender identity.
In September 2018, Hall was approved for gender reassignment surgery; as of June 2019, however, she had not received surgery.
Hall also was recommended for transfer to Oregon’s only women’s prison, but that recommendation was denied by the Oregon Department of Corrections’ (ODOC) Transgender and Intersex Committee (TAIC). ...
by Victoria Law, Truthout
When Taylor Lytle began fainting every morning when she stood up, she had to make a decision: Should she seek medical care or should she save her hard-earned wages to buy soap, shampoo, deodorant and feminine hygiene products?
People across the United States struggle with similar concerns. But Lytle shouldn’t have had to make that decision. That’s because in a country without universal or even a nationalized health care system, one group of people has a constitutionally guaranteed right to medical care – people behind bars. In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Estelle v. Gamble, that jails and prisons have a constitutional obligation to provide health care to those in custody. Failing to do so could be considered deliberate indifference, violating the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Incarcerated people do not have access to jobs that pay minimum wage, meaning that they are dependent upon jails and prisons to provide for their basic needs, including health care needs.
That doesn’t mean that jails and prisons haven’t put up other barriers to essential care. In 41 states, if a person in prison wants medical care, they need to cough up ...
by Chad Marks
Attorney General William P. Barr has paved the way to restart the “machinery of death,” in the words of former Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun, in the form of capital punishment on the federal level. In July 2019, Barr directed the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to adopt a proposed addendum to the federal execution protocol, which will allow death sentences to proceed.
While states have been executing prisoners on a regular basis, the federal death penalty has been on a hiatus since 2003, when Louis Jones, Jr. was put to death. Now, as part of Barr’s directive, the BOP has been ordered to schedule five executions.
“Congress has expressly authorized the death penalty through legislation adopted by the people’s representatives in both houses of Congress and signed by the President,” Barr stated. “Under Administrations of both parties, the Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals, including these five murderers, each of whom was convicted by a jury of his peers after a full and fair proceeding. The Justice Department upholds the rule of law – and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed ...
by David M. Reutter
On May 3, 2019, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court’s order that found the conditions of confinement on Virginia’s death row violated the Eighth Amendment. The appellate court held the conditions that existed when the suit was filed created a “substantial risk” of serious psychological and emotional harm.
The lawsuit was brought in November 2014 by death row prisoners Thomas Porter, Anthony Juniper and Mark Lawlor, who were held at Sussex I State Prison.
They alleged they were “denied access to any form of congregate recreation, either indoor or outdoor; they were not allowed to eat meals outside their cells; and they could not participate in congregate religious services or programs.” As a result, they spent 23 to 24 hours a day in their cells. The district court granted summary judgment to the prisoner plaintiffs and entered an injunction. [See: PLN, Sept. 2018, p.22]. The state appealed.
The Fourth Circuit began its analysis by pointing to the prisoners’ “expert evidence establishing the risks and serious adverse psychological and emotional effects of prolonged solitary confinement [and] the surveys of the scholarly literature supporting that evidence.” It cited several recent cases, including two ...
by Kevin Bliss
The Louisiana Department of Corrections’ (LDOC) prison industry program, Prison Enterprises (PE), was audited in May 2019. The resulting report found that the program still had some of the same issues with sustainability and inadequate training opportunities for prisoners as it did 20 years ago in its last audit.
PE manufactures products for sale to state agencies and nonprofit organizations within Louisiana, and produces agricultural commodities that can be sold on the open market.
The prison industry program’s catalog advertises office furniture, institutional clothing, silk screening, institutional bedding, printing, metal fabrication and janitorial products. PE also grows corn, cotton and soybeans, and raises cattle and heifers. It provides job training opportunities through the use of prison labor to operate its various industries. All proceeds go to the LDOC.
The audit report said the program was successfully assisting in reducing the cost of incarceration. Yet PE showed a net loss for 11 of the past 23 years. Several industries within the program were so unprofitable that they were shut down, such as the quail raising farm, which lost $137,200 between 2016 and 2018, and the horse training business, which lost $189,780 in 2016.
Many of PE’s industries reported ...
by Dale Chappell
Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) medical director, Dr. Julia Barnett, was terminated on April 18, 2019 because she “failed to exercise sound clinical judgment and failed to provide adequate medical care” to prisoners at the Monroe Correctional Complex (MCC), resulting in the deaths of several prisoners.
Barnett had been on paid leave since October 2018 while the DOC investigated her provision of medical treatment at MCC, which is the state’s third-largest prison. In November 2018, Barnett’s staff – two other doctors and several physician assistants and nurses – submitted a vote of “no confidence” and complained to administrators that she had created “a toxic environment” and appeared to make decisions “to reduce health care costs rather than for the benefit of the patient.”
After working for private medical provider Corizon Health in Arizona, Dr. Barnett, a former pharmacist, assumed the role of medical director at MCC in 2017 with a starting salary of $260,000. Although she did not have all the necessary credentials, DOC administrators made an exception, citing a shortage of doctors willing to take the job.
Barnett’s 27-page termination notice, which was obtained from her personnel file through a public records request, detailed a host ...
by David M. Reutter
n June 2019, Louisiana officials entered into a contract that will allow prisoners and Medicaid patients to receive advanced medications to treat hepatitis C (HCV). The five-year contract with Asegua Therapies, a subsidiary of Gilead Sciences, aims to treat at least 31,000 of the state’s 39,000 HCV-positive residents by 2024 – a ten-fold increase over current treatment levels.
“This partnership will have a direct and immediate impact on the most vulnerable populations with hepatitis C – people who are on Medicaid or who receive care through the state corrections system. These populations are disproportionately affected by hepatitis C and often face the greatest difficulty in accessing care,” said Gregg Alton, Chief Patient Officer at Gilead Sciences.
Because HCV infections are easily spread by sexual contact and sharing needles, the disease poses a health risk to the rest of the population. About 3.4 million Americans carry the virus, which can cause liver inflammation and immune-response liver damage, though 70 to 80 percent of carriers have no symptoms.
In 2018, Louisiana treated only 384 patients with Asegua Therapies’ HCV drug Epclusa, one of a new class of medications called Direct Acting Antivirals (DAAs). The drug increases the effectiveness ...
by Kevin Bliss
Admitting it is an “uncalled-for-situation,” Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles (BPP) Director Charles Graddick announced on September 9, 2019 that all future parole hearings were being postponed in order to comply with a new law that took effect the first of that month. The law, signed in June by Governor Kay Ivey, requires notice to victims 30 days prior to a prisoner’s pardon or parole hearing.
The new statute followed the July 2018 murders of seven-year-old Colton Lee and his great grandmother, Marie Martin, as well as Martin’s neighbor, Martha Reliford, by Alabama parolee Jimmy Spencer. Though Spencer’s previous victims had been notified of his parole hearings in 2008 and 2013, they were not notified of the one that sent him to a Birmingham halfway house in January 2018, from which he walked away three weeks later. The police arrested him on drug charges in June 2018 but he was released after his parole officer failed to respond to their inquiries.
Former BPP Director Eddie Cook had opposed the new law, which tightens restrictions on the agency and creates additional oversight. Cook and two subordinates were placed on leave while state officials investigated allegations of “malfeasance,” ...
by David M. Reutter
Florida federal district court has denied a motion to dismiss a civil rights action claiming that Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) officials and the FDOC’s former medical services contractor, Corizon Health, deprived a mentally ill prisoner of care he needed to prevent him from starving to death.
The suit was filed by the estate of Florida prisoner Vincent Gaines; when the trial court sentenced him, it recommended that he be housed close to his family and placed in a mental health program. [See: PLN, Sept. 2018, p.24]. When Gaines entered the state prison system on June 24, 2013, he weighed 190 pounds and stood 5’9” with a body mass index of 28.1, which is characterized as overweight.
Prison medical staff noted that he had a history of auditory hallucinations and had twice been involuntarily committed. Gaines was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, mania with psychotic features and a cognitive disability. An emergency referral in March 2014 landed Gaines in the Transitional Care Unit at the Dade Correctional Institution. His mental condition continued to deteriorate, and on November 12, 2014 he was transferred to the Crisis Stabilization Unit at the South Florida Reception Center. At that point, ...
by Priti Krishtel, The Crime Report
In a deeply divided political electorate, prison reform is one of the few issues that attracts bipartisan support. Yet there’s something missing from the current conversation about criminal justice reform: the high cost of prescription drugs.
In 1976, a landmark Supreme Court case, Estelle v. Gamble, established an individual’s fundamental right to access medical treatment while behind bars. Specifically, the court found that “deliberate indifference by prison personnel to a prisoner’s serious illness or injury constitutes cruel and unusual punishment contravening the Eighth Amendment.”
Prisons and jails, in other words, are constitutionally required to provide health care to people in their care.
When the drugs needed to treat prisoners are expensive, it puts enormous strain on state and county corrections budgets. That, in turn, leads to delays in treatment and substandard care that can have lasting, even deadly, consequences for people who are incarcerated.
It also impacts the state’s ability to improve prison conditions or implement rehabilitative programming that helps keep people from re-offending, things that the current First Step bill currently before the Senate seeks to do. [Ed Note: The First Step Act was signed into law by President Trump ...
by David M. Reutter
Louisiana’s First Circuit Court of Appeal held on May 23, 2019 that a prisoner who filed grievances and a lawsuit concerning his medical treatment “exercised reasonable diligence to the best of his ability to determine if something was wrong with him.” Under the circumstances of the case, the appellate court found his State Medical Review Panel (MRP) request was filed within one year of finding he may have been the victim of medical malpractice.
The ruling came after the trial court dismissed a lawsuit filed by state prisoner Cornelius Wilson, finding he had failed to timely file an MRP request. Louisiana law provides for a specified period in which to bring medical malpractice claims. LA. R.S. 9:5628(A) sets forth two prescriptive limits applicable to such claims: one year from the date of the alleged act or the date of discovery, and a three-year limitation from the date of the alleged act, omission or neglect if the negligence was not immediately apparent.
Prescription commences when a plaintiff obtains actual or constructive knowledge of facts indicating to a reasonable person that he or she is the victim of a tort. The ultimate issue in cases like Wilson’s is ...
by David M. Reutter
On May 9, 2019, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals answered in the affirmative whether it is “excessive force to tase for a second time a man who, as a result of an initial shock, is lying motionless on the floor and has wet himself, and who presented only a minimal threat to begin with?”
The appellate ruling came in a civil rights action brought by the estate of Ricky Hinkle, who was held at Alabama’s Birmingham City Jail after being arrested while “visibly intoxicated.” Soon thereafter, he began suffering alcohol withdrawal symptoms and exhibited delusional behavior. He was moved three times before ending up in a cellblock with jail guards Habimana Dukuzumuremyi and Christopher Cotten.
Shortly after Hinkle arrived in the cellblock, Dukuzumuremyi realized he could not see Hinkle on the cell’s video monitor. Cotten went to investigate after Hinkle did not respond to a query over the loudspeaker. He found Hinkle standing in the corner of his cell wearing only his underpants and shoes. After Hinkle said he wanted to die, Cotten decided to move him to a padded cell.
While attempting to do so, Hinkle ran down the hallway, entered a bathroom and ...
by Matt Clarke
In June 2019, a U.S. District Court ordered that a prisoner held at the Federal Correctional Institution in Aliceville, Alabama be released due to the poor medical care she received from the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for invasive breast cancer.
In 2013, Angela Michelle Beck, 47, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and possession of a firearm in connection with a drug trafficking offense. She was one of 21 people indicted on charges of being part of a large-scale methamphetamine ring, and received a 166-month sentence. She had served over six years.
According to court documents, Beck found a lump in her left breast while taking a shower in September 2017. She reported the lump to prison officials and was seen by a doctor on October 16, 2017, then by a surgeon two months later. She had a mammogram on December 21, 2017 that showed multiple breast masses and cysts. A prison doctor ordered a biopsy.
Eight months later, the biopsy confirmed Stage II cancer and Beck was told she would need to have the breast removed. That didn’t happen for another three months. It took five more months before she received a follow-up appointment with ...
by Ed Lyon
Unlike most state prison systems, Alaska’s Department of Corrections (DOC) usually allows prisoners to correspond by mail with prisoners in other units. In February 2014, prison officials adopted a policy that prohibited prisoners assigned to three units from sending letters to each other. The reason for the policy change was concerns over prisoners returning from being housed in other states who were believed to have become involved with gangs and drugs. DOC officials did not want to allow them to correspond with other prisoners regarding those issues. There were exceptions for communication with family members and legal correspondence.
Raymond Leahy, a Muslim prisoner who self-identifies as the Imam of the “Ummah of Incarcerated Alaskan Muslims,” was assigned to the Goose Creek Correctional Center, which is one of the three units where prisoner-to-prisoner correspondence was banned. The Islamic holy month of Ramadan occurred following the policy change, yet Leahy sent a letter to another Muslim prisoner at one of the other affected units. It was returned marked “undeliverable.”
In June 2016, Leahy filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 lawsuit in superior court after exhausting his state remedies. His basis for the suit was the prophet Muhammad’s requirement for ...
by David M. Reutter
A federal jury awarded $1,000 to each person who was subjected to a privacy violation due to Buck County’s willful violation of Pennsylvania’s Criminal History Record Information Act (CHRIA). Up to 66,799 people whose arrest information was posted online are eligible for inclusion in the class-action lawsuit.
The suit was filed in 2013 by Daryoush Taha, who was arrested on September 29, 1998 by the Bensalem Police Department and booked into the Bucks County Correctional Facility (BCCF) on various charges. Taha was subsequently placed into an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program for one year on one of the charges, and the others were either discharged or nol prossed. Upon completion of the program, the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas ordered the records of the participants to be expunged.
Despite that order, in 2007 the BCCF disseminated information about Taha’s arrest on a county website. The site published his mugshot and criminal arrest record. In 2011, Unpublish LLC, which does business as mugshots.com, and Citizens Information Associates, LLC (CIA), which operates bustedmugshots.com and mugshotsonline.com, obtained the arrest information and published it on their respective sites.
Taha sued Bucks County and the two companies in 2012, alleging ...
by David M. Reutter
As Florida was preparing for Hurricane Dorian in August 2019, government officials told registered sex offenders to seek shelter in county jails. “It was such a traumatic experience to be incarcerated. I’m not going to subject myself to that voluntarily,” said a representative with the Florida Action Committee (FAC), which advocates for the reform of sex offender laws. “I’d rather tie myself to a tree.”
Failure to comply with the law by staying away from shelters where children are present can result in new felony charges and imprisonment. Officials in Nassau and Flagler counties directed sex offenders to seek shelter at the county jail as Dorian’s 185 mph winds threatened Florida’s Treasure Coast. Osceola County set up a shelter specifically for sex offenders.
For those who chose to evacuate, a 2018 state law made seeking safety more onerous. That law requires sex offenders to register their temporary address, in person, with the sheriff’s office if they will be away from home for more than three days. They also must update their drivers license or ID card with the temporary address within 48 hours of their departure date. Failure to comply carries a mandatory sentence of six ...
by Mark Wilson
The Oregon Court of Appeals held on March 13, 2019 that a prisoner was guilty of the crime of identity theft because he used the personal identification numbers (PINs) of two other prisoners to access a jail telephone.
Michael Steven Connolly was confined at the Multnomah County Detention Center (MCDC) in Portland, Oregon after violating a pretrial release agreement in a domestic violence case. The trial court prohibited him from contacting the alleged victim, identified only as K.
Nevertheless, while in jail, Connolly used the PINs of two other prisoners who were housed in his unit to call K five times. He used one prisoner’s PIN to make four calls and another PIN for one call. All of the calls were recorded.
Connolly was charged with five counts of identity theft for using the other prisoners’ PINs to place the phone calls.
An MCDC prisoner’s PIN is a combination of his jail identification number and date of birth. “A person commits the crime of identity theft if the person, with the intent to deceive or to defraud, obtains, possesses, transfers, creates, utters or converts to the person’s own use the personal identification of another person.” See: ORS ...
by Matt Clarke
On July 2, 2019, a strongly divided three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion terminating the consent decree in Brown v. Collier, which allowed Muslim prisoners in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) to hold religious services without direct supervision when a TDCJ-trained religious volunteer or chaplain was unavailable.
The consent decree had been previously superseded by the “Scott Plan,” which gave all religious groups of a sufficient size the ability to meet one hour per week under direct staff supervision when a volunteer or chaplain was unavailable.
Brown v. Collier, a federal class-action civil rights lawsuit, was brought by a TDCJ prisoner named Bobby R. Brown in 1977. It alleged discrimination against Muslim prisoners and requested that they receive the same number of group religious services per week as adherents of the Protestant, Catholic and Jewish faiths.
The resulting consent decree exempted Islamic services from the TDCJ policy requiring direct supervision of all religious services, allowing indirect staff supervision of prisoner-led services when needed.
In 2009, TDCJ prisoner William Scott, a Jehovah’s Witness, filed a federal lawsuit seeking the same accommodation for his faith. The court in that ...
by Kevin Bliss
An Indiana federal district court held that a former jail detainee, Adam Bell, had presented sufficient evidence to allow certification of a class comprised of all persons currently confined, and who will be confined in the future, at the Henry County Jail. The ruling came in a lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Department that alleged unconstitutional and inhumane conditions of confinement.
Represented by the Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and attorney Joel E. Harvey, Bell filed suit while housed at the jail, saying it was originally designed to hold 76 prisoners but officials began adding additional bunks and mattresses to cells without required authorization, expanding the capacity to 116 prisoners.
Bell said the facility had been deemed overcrowded 100% of the time by the chief jail inspector of the Department of Corrections. Prisoners were forced to sleep on cell floors, in offices, in indoor recreation areas and near toilets. He also alleged that the jail was constantly understaffed which, with the overcrowded conditions, led to assaults and other violent incidents.
Henry County acknowledged the claims of additional beds but denied other allegations in the complaint. The county said the jail did not have more prisoners than permanent bunks, ...
by Kevin Bliss
Mario Sentelle Cavin, incarcerated at the Macomb Correctional Facility in Michigan, filed an appeal in the Sixth Circuit after a federal district court ruled that his religious freedoms had not been violated when the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) refused to allow him communal worship for Wiccan services.
Wicca became a recognized religion in the MDOC in 2005, and the prison system permits group worship during major holidays called Sabbats. Another Wiccan holiday, Esbat, is celebrated each lunar month. Cavin believed that Esbat was to be celebrated communally too, with certain items such as candles and incense, and requested the opportunity to do so from Chaplain David Leach at the Macomb prison.
The MDOC denied Cavin’s request, and in 2015 he filed suit and requested appointment of counsel, injunctive relief to eliminate the restrictions, and monetary damages from both the MDOC and Chaplain Leach. The federal district court ruled in a summary judgment order that prison officials and Chaplain Leach were entitled to immunity; the court also refused to appoint counsel, and following a bench trial held the MDOC’s policies did not violate Cavin’s rights. It found that additional worship services would overtax limited prison resources and ...
by Dale Chappell
A former guard at the Rikers Island jail complex in New York City has filed a lawsuit in state court exposing misconduct and cover-ups by staff. A subsequent report by the city’s Department of Investigation (DOI) confirmed evidence of cover-ups of over a thousand prisoner fights in just three months, while the latest Mayor’s Management Report (MMR) included statistics showing a surge in jail violence.
Manuel Carvalho Calvelos, the former guard, reported to his supervisors that three other jailers were smuggling contraband into the facility and planting it on prisoners. He also reported that a female captain “twerked” for a masturbating male prisoner in an attempt to get a razor away from him.
Jail officials promptly took action – against Calvelos. They fired him, and in May 2018 he filed a lawsuit alleging that he had been terminated in retaliation for exposing corruption at Rikers. See: Matter of Calvelos v. Brann, Supreme Court of New York County (NY), Docket No. 154110/2018.
“Manuel had a legal obligation to report the illegal activities and corruption he witnessed within the Department of Correction [DOC] and he took that duty seriously,” his attorney said. “Unfortunately, those at DOC that decided ...
by Matt Clarke
In November 2018, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of four Muslim prisoners at the Riverside Regional Jail in North Prince George, Virginia.
The complaint alleged that Riverside officials, including the jail’s superintendent, senior chaplain, food services supervisor, security chief and programs supervisor, discriminated against Muslims by creating a “God Pod” cellblock to house prisoners in a Christian-centric program. Participants in the “God Pod” received special privileges and were immersed in a Christian environment with daily Christian programming, while Muslim prisoners were denied regular religious services despite their availability.
Further, the jail officials allegedly discriminated against Muslim and other non-Christian prisoners by excluding them from the “God Pod.” Essentially, the lawsuit alleged that while being open to prisoners of all faiths on paper, the only non-Christians allowed into the “God Pod’ program were those willing to convert to Christianity.
Staff from the Good News Jail & Prison Ministry, a religious group whose website says it has chaplains providing Bible-based programs in 22 states, runs the “God Pod” at the Riverside Regional Jail. The program is the only religious class allowed to be regularly provided at the jail, and participants ...
by Matt Clarke
On September 14, 2018, a Missouri state court issued an amended final judgment in a class-action lawsuit brought by Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) guards who alleged they were required to work without compensation before and after each shift. The judgment included a jury award of $113.7 million, inclusive of over $37.9 million in attorney fees and more than $219,000 in litigation costs.
With the assistance of the Missouri Corrections Officers Association and St. Louis attorneys Gary K. Burger, Jr. and Brian M. Winebright, DOC guards Thomas Hootselle, Jr., Daniel Dicus, Oliver Huff, Powell Meister, Billie Since, Beverly Ann Stevenson, Amanda Strange and Morgan Strange filed a class-action complaint alleging that DOC guards, who work five eight-hour shifts per week, were being required to work without compensation before and after their shifts.
Specifically, they claimed they were required to be at their posts at the start of a shift, which was when their pay started, but were also required to do the following after arriving at the prison but prior to reporting to their posts: 1) remove their uniform jackets and belts and pass through a security checkpoint; 2) put the jackets and belts back on and ...
by Chad Marks
In 2012, Emmanuel Diaz found himself in the custody of the New York City Department of Correction (DOC). While housed at the Rikers Island jail complex on multiple counts of burglary and robbery, he made nearly 1,100 phone calls. During some of the calls he made incriminating statements.
Diaz later went to a jury trial, and the state sought to introduce excerpts from four of the phone calls recorded while he was in DOC custody. Diaz objected, arguing that he had an expectation of privacy on the calls since he was a pretrial detainee and had not been convicted of a crime.
The trial court, after hearing from both sides, allowed the telephonic evidence to be introduced. The court found that Diaz had impliedly consented to the recording of his phone conversations because the DOC had given him sufficient notice that his calls would be monitored. When entering the jail system, all prisoners receive handbooks that outline the policy related to recording and monitoring of phone calls. There are also signs posted next to the phones, and a recorded message precedes every call that says the call is being monitored.
The trial court relied on this information ...
by David M. Reutter
A Michigan federal district court initially held that a prisoner’s allegation that a guard’s use of a Taser constituted excessive force stated a viable claim. The court also denied the defendants’ motion to seal evidence in the case, though the suit was later dismissed.
Prisoner Gregory Graham was attacked by another prisoner on July 25, 2014 while at the Oaks Correctional Facility. Guard Douglas Murtland wrote a misconduct report charging Graham with fighting.
The hearing officer rejected that claim, as video evidence showed Graham was attacked by a shank-wielding prisoner while his hands were full. The hearing officer was “unconvinced” that Graham “was fighting back versus protecting himself.”
Graham alleged in his civil rights complaint that “Murtland used the Taser on him without warning or justification and that he continues to suffer eye, neck, and back pain from the incident nearly eighteen months after the fact.”
The district court found his factual allegations were sufficient to meet the subjective and objective components of an excessive force claim. Thus, the court allowed that claim to proceed, though it dismissed claims for failure to protect and denial of access to the courts, the latter being predicated on withholding ...
by Douglas Ankney
In 1999, Marty Schwartz started Vehicles for Change (VFC) – a nonprofit that repairs donated vehicles and sells them to low-income families for $700 to $850. The charity provides reliable vehicles to solve “the No. 1 barrier for employment for low-income residents – which is [lack of] transportation,” according to Schwartz’s group.
But finding workers trained in automotive repair was a challenge. To solve the need for skilled mechanics, VFC came up with the idea for “Full Circle” in 2002. The goal was to have a program for ex-offenders to help bridge the gap to employment after their release from prison.
“They screwed up; they know they screwed up,” Schwartz said. “They want to fix it. They are sincere, they are incredible and they work hard.”
Sean Howard was released in February 2019 after serving 21 years. While behind bars, he acquired an education and job skills, including a passion for auto repair in a prison shop class. Instructors recognized his exemplary attitude and work ethic, and recommended him for enrollment in VFC’s school located just outside Baltimore, where the donated vehicles are repaired. There is also a VFC program in Detroit, and Schwartz is hoping to ...
by Bill Barton
During an Iowa event in March 2019, U.S. Senator and presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren spoke about felon disenfranchisement, saying that while giving former felons the right to vote is the correct thing to do, extending that right to prisoners is “something that we could have more conversation about.”
“Once someone pays their debt to society, they’re out there expected to pay taxes, expected to abide by the law, they’re expected to support themselves and their families,” Warren noted. “I think that means they’ve got a right to vote. While they’re still incarcerated, I think it’s a different question.”
South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttegieg, another Democrat running for president, agreed that “when you are convicted of a crime and you’re incarcerated ... you lose certain rights; you lose your freedom. And I think during that period, it does not make sense to have an exception for the right to vote.”
But in an opinion piece in The New York Times, Jamelle Bouie asked, “Why not let prisoners vote – and give the franchise to the roughly 1.5 million people sitting in federal and state prisons? Why must supposedly universal adult suffrage exclude people convicted of crimes?” ...
by Matt Clarke
On May 10, 2019, the Nevada Supreme Court reversed a summary judgment order dismissing a prisoner’s claim that requiring him to prove tribal affiliation or otherwise demonstrate Native American association or ethnicity before he could participate in Native American sweat lodge and sacred pipe ceremonies violated his equal protection rights.
David August Kille, Sr., a Nevada Department of Corrections (DOC) prisoner held in protective custody at the High Desert State Prison (HDSP), filed a lawsuit in state court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging the DOC had violated his equal protection rights by requiring he prove Native American tribal affiliation, association or ethnicity before being permitted to take part in sweat lodge and other religious ceremonies.
The district court granted the state’s motion for summary judgment, ruling that Kille could not sue state entities such as HDSP, the DOC and prison staff in their official capacity. The court further found that Kille had failed to prove intent or purposeful discrimination.
On appeal, the Nevada Supreme Court noted the state did not dispute that Kille is a sincere practitioner of a Native American religion. The DOC also admitted that Native American prisoners are the only group required to ...
by Chad Marks
Lisa R. Easley was a longtime New Jersey prison employee. She began her career in February 1996 as a prison guard, and by 2009, after forking over some bribes, became an assistant superintendent.
The pay-for-play scheme within the New Jersey Department of Corrections began after Easley met Lydell B. Sherrer while working at the Northern State Prison. At the time, Sherrer was an administrator at that facility. As he moved up the ladder, he was able to secure positions for those who wanted to advance their careers through cash payments.
Sherrer did just that for Easley, who paid bribes of $500 in 2006 for a shift assignment, $2,500 in 2007 for a position in the DOC’s Special Operations Group and $7,500 in 2008 to become an assistant superintendent – a position for which she was not qualified, according to court records. But the money she paid to Sherrer landed her the job anyway.
Easley’s stint as assistant superintendent at the Alfred C. Wagner Youth Correctional Facility lasted only a short time because the FBI got wind of the scheme. When the dust settled, Sherrer was sentenced in 2013 to 46 months in federal prison on an extortion ...
by Douglas Ankney
On August 1, 2019, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that non-medical correctional staff were entitled to qualified immunity in a lawsuit alleging they had failed to provide a medical accommodation to a prisoner that had neither been ordered by the medical department nor was obvious to a layperson.
In the spring of 2015, Jeffrey Leiser was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) while incarcerated in the mental health unit at the Stanley Correctional Institution in Wisconsin. Leiser told his psychiatrist that his symptoms were triggered whenever anyone stood closely behind him. The psychiatrist arranged for Leiser to receive his medication directly from the nurse rather than waiting in the med line. None of the medical staff informed the guards of Leiser’s diagnosis or of any needed accommodation.
In 2013, however, Leiser had told Sergeant Karen Kloth that he suffered from PTSD and asked her not to stand closely behind him. Kloth told Leiser he would just have to “deal with it.” She then began standing directly behind him every time she worked. Leiser complained to Kloth’s supervisors – Unit Manager Paula Stoudt and Warden Reed Richardson – about her behavior, but neither acted on ...
“Will You Get Back Up?”
by Douglas Ankney
In November 2017, Piper Travis was arrested for failure to appear on two misdemeanor counts of stealing a TV and a $3.48 bag of Easter candy from a Walmart in Washington state. On November 20 the 34-year-old from Whidbey Island was booked into the Snohomish County jail to await trial. On the first day of December she was observed lying on the floor of her cell, foaming at the mouth. Around two weeks later she lost brain activity. Then she died.
When she was two, Travis survived a car crash that killed her mother and older sister. Doctors said a head injury sustained in the accident likely contributed to her later development of bipolar disorder. She was taken in by her aunt, Paulette Beck, who along with her husband raised Travis as their own.
Travis wrote poetry in her adolescence as an emotional outlet. At the alternative high school she attended, she won six scholarships for her writing skills. But timed tests proved too challenging as a result of her bipolar disorder, so she never earned a degree from the community college she attended nor a license after completing cosmetology school.
by David M. Reutter
The sheriff’s office in Cherokee County, North Carolina lost five veteran deputies to abrupt firings and resignations in just two months following an October 2018 news report that described allegations of staged fights between prisoners in a crude form of “jailhouse justice.” In December, two former deputies were indicted for assaulting a detainee at the Cherokee County jail. Another high-profile dismissal in March 2019 followed a probe by the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), which was the third time the sheriff’s office had been investigated since Sheriff Derrick Palmer’s election in 2014.
The most recent investigation began in December 2018, when former guards Wesley “Gage” Killian and Joshua Gunter were indicted on misdemeanor assault charges for an altercation with prisoner George Victor Stokes, which occurred at the jail in May 2018. Stokes, who was handcuffed, was allegedly shocked with a stun gun by Gunter and then kicked in the head by Killian. Both deputies were fired later that month.
Claims depicting a pattern of detainee abuse were verified by Joseph Preston Allen, who retired as a sergeant in March 2018 after 11 years at the jail, and by Tom Taylor, a veteran guard of seven years ...
by Ed Lyon
On July 16, 2019, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in a two-to-one ruling, affirmed a district court’s dismissal of a Fourth Amendment claim prior to a jury trial, at which the jury found for the defendant prison officials on an Eighth Amendment claim.
The facts of the case were that 200 female prisoners at the Lincoln Correctional Center in Illinois were forced to strip and stand so close together that they were touching, in groups of four to 10. “Menstruating inmates had to remove their tampons and sanitary pads in front of others, were not given replacements, and many got blood on their bodies and clothing and blood on the floor,” the appellate court wrote. “The naked inmates had to stand barefoot on a floor dirty with menstrual blood and raise their breasts, lift their hair, turn around, bend over, spread their buttocks and vaginas, and cough.”
Meanwhile, trainee guards made “derogatory comments and gestures about the women’s bodies and odors, telling the prisoners that they were “dirty bitches,” “fucking disgusting,” “deserve to be in here” and “smell like death.” Male guards watched the women from a gymnasium during the 2011 training exercise.
The plaintiffs originally ...
by Bill Barton
In April 2019, Clay County Sheriff Paul Vescovo sued the Missouri county’s three-member commission, claiming that it slashed his operating budget by over 40 percent “in retaliation for a criminal referral made two years ago.”
That referral involved assistant county administrator Laurie Portwood, who was accused of directing a subordinate to tamper with public records by removing the name of Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte. Sheriff Vescovo passed the investigation of the allegation to the Missouri Highway Patrol. Portwood, the county’s top budget official, then entered into a deferred-prosecution agreement to resolve the criminal investigation. She retained her job and later received a salary increase from $107,000 to $140,000 annually.
Meanwhile, the sheriff’s department ran out of money to pay contractors that provide food and medical services to some 300 prisoners at the county jail.
Vescovo requested $2.8 million in 2018 to fund the jail and administrative costs but received only $1.79 million upon a recommendation by Portwood, down from $2.58 million received in 2017 when the sheriff had requested $3 million.
When Vescovo’s lawsuit went to trial in August 2019, Portwood struggled to defend her budget recommendation to state Circuit Court Judge Darren Adkins. The county’s other ...
by Chad Marks
In September 2018, three prisoners died on three consecutive days at the Menard Correctional Center in Illinois. Kevin Curtis, 31, who was on suicide watch, died on September 5. The next day, Edwin Freeman, 45, also on suicide watch, was found unresponsive in his cell and taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. And on September 7, prisoner Timothy Murray, 32, died due to “probable intoxication with an unknown substance,” according to the coroner.
An internal investigation by the Department of Corrections (DOC) said its employees had committed no wrongdoing in connection with the deaths, despite the fact that one guard, Nickolas Mitchell, admitted he falsified cell checks during the time that Curtis died. One staff member was temporarily suspended by the DOC in connection with the deaths, according to a spokesperson.
WBEZ obtained records that indicated at least 166 prisoners had died in DOC facilities from January 2017 to September 2018. In about 80 of those deaths, the prison system’s research department listed no reason for the cause of death. When requests were made regarding specific deaths, the DOC said in some cases it had no death certificates or reports.
This lack of transparency ...
by Kevin Bliss
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held in a June 26, 2019 ruling that sufficient evidence existed for a reasonable juror to conclude that prisoner LeRoy Palmer’s congenital deformity constituted a serious medical condition, and that a prison medical employee’s knowledge of the heightened risk of harm and failure to prevent that harm qualified as deliberate indifference.
Palmer was born without his left hand, with his arm terminating at the wrist. When he was transferred on January 11, 2012 to the North Reception and Classification Center in Illinois for an upcoming court appearance, he underwent routine intake screening by Craig Franz.
Palmer stated that he told Franz, employed by private contractor Wexford Health Sources, of his condition and need to have a low bunk pass similar to the one he had at his previous facility, the Shawnee Correctional Center. He said Franz failed to issue the pass, and he was assigned to a top bunk.
Palmer then filed two requests to see the prison’s doctor, both of which were ignored. On January 22, 2012, he fell from the top bunk and seriously injured his knee.
He filed suit against Franz in U.S. District Court, alleging negligence and ...
by David M. Reutter
In May 2019, a circuit court held the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority was entitled to sovereign immunity in a lawsuit seeking payment for prisoner medical bills.
The suit was brought by Cabell Huntington Hospital to recover $168,985.65 for medical care provided to prisoner Arthur L. Edens between January 28, 2016 and February 15, 2016, while he was under the Authority’s custody. Despite being given notice of the outstanding bills, the Authority refused to pay. Edens was hospitalized after he reportedly “sustained serious injuries” at the South Central Regional Jail.
The circuit court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case after the Authority argued it was a state agency that could not be sued under Article VI, Section 35 of the West Virginia Constitution. The court said that in determining whether a particular entity is a state agency, the two most important factors are “whether the organization’s powers are substantially created by the Legislature and whether its governing board’s composition is prescribed by the Legislature.”
The court found the Authority was created by the state legislature, which also prescribed the board’s composition. Also relevant was whether the organization is dependent on public ...
by Dale Chappell
Allegheny County, Pennsylvania has settled a lawsuit over lack of adequate care by Corizon Health, the medical contractor at the county’s jail, for failing to feed a prisoner, which led him to go into cardiac arrest, according to court records.
The prisoner, Christopher Wallace, was arrested on February 25, 2015 and immediately taken to a hospital due to his poor health caused by his inability to obtain feeding tubes after his Medicaid benefits were suspended. Wallace had his esophagus severed in a prior shooting, and is unable to eat anything by mouth.
He was treated at the hospital and then sent to the jail with instructions to feed him through his feeding tube five times a day. On March 2, 2015, Wallace was rushed back to the hospital after losing consciousness. He was diagnosed with “starvation.” Once treated, he was returned to the jail a week later with the same instructions to feed him five times a day.
Wallace was again transported to the hospital less than two weeks later, this time after his heart stopped. Records indicated that he was fed even fewer times than when he was returned to the jail previously, sometimes without any ...
by Douglas Ankney
Connecticut man arrested for his unintentional failure to serve a 13-year-old federal prison sentence was released from custody in March 2019.
Philadelphia native Demetrius Anderson had not only remained free for those 13 years after completing his sentence at a Connecticut state prison in 2006, he also built a new life as an upstanding citizen, as he had promised his mother. Since 2012 he had worked for New Haven’s parks department as a caretaker for the Lighthouse Point Park carousel. He owns a two-bedroom condo and is an active member of Joy Temple Church.
Then on February 28, 2019, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Diamond in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania signed a warrant for Anderson’s arrest. A routine audit by the U.S. Marshals Office revealed the 43-year-old had never served a 16-month sentence imposed in 2005, after Anderson pleaded guilty to federal charges of possessing and passing counterfeit currency and identity theft while he resided in Pennsylvania.
Anderson subsequently pleaded guilty in New Haven to similar, but separate, charges and was sent to prison in Connecticut. He said he thought the sentences were run concurrently. After finishing his state prison term in 2006, no one remanded ...
by Chad Marks
In Maryland, prisoners sentenced to life with the possibility of parole must serve 15 years before they can be considered for release. After serving the minimum 15-year term, they have an initial hearing before two commissioners. Once passing that hurdle, they are scheduled for a risk assessment exam before a doctor – then it’s up to the governor to approve their parole.
The problem with the risk assessment is there is only one doctor with a waiting list of 85 prisoners. Until the exam is completed, prisoners are stuck waiting. Absent the exam, no recommendations can be made to the governor, who must sign off on parole for lifers seeking a second chance at freedom.
Eleven prisoners who have passed through the initial hearing stage died while waiting for their risk assessment over the past 15 years.
Fransharon Jackson, a 45-year-old women who has spent more than 20 years in prison, had been waiting over a year for her exam when her legal team reached out to Maryland’s Parole Commission to inquire about the delay. A program manager told them, “I would encourage you to not give her a time frame.”
The judge who imposed the life ...
by Scott Grammer
In April 2019 study by Universityof California, Berkeley professor Tolani Britton established a link between the so-called “War On Drugs,” embodied in the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, and college enrollment by black men. Her research found that despite the fact that college enrollment for black men between 18 and 24 years old grew at a faster rate than for white males from 1980 to 1985, after the enactment of the draconian 1986 federal drug law, the odds that a black man would enroll in college dropped by 10 percent.
According to the study, “[b]etween 1980 and 1989, arrest[s] of Blacks for drug sales and manufacturing or use rose by 219% when compared to the increase in the arrest rate for Whites of 56%. This disparity in drug arrests by race was also reflected in the juvenile population.... Drug offense arrests among Black juveniles increased from 1985-1989 and remained stable from 1989-1992. Among White youths, rates decreased between 1985 and 1992.”
Those trends followed not only the passage of the 1986 law but an increase in anti-drug funding from $2.9 billion in 1986 to $4.8 billion in 1987. The study quoted a 1991 report by the U.S. ...
by Matt Clarke
On March 18, 2019, an Arizona federal district court granted in part a motion for summary judgment filed by Prison Legal News in a lawsuit over censorship by the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC). The court ruled that the ADC had violated PLN’s due process rights by failing to provide notice of publication denials and an opportunity to appeal. It also held that ADC Director Charles L. Ryan and now-retired ADC Office of Publication Review employee Alf Olson were liable – Ryan for facilitating an unconstitutional policy, DO 914, and Olson for personally rejecting PLN publications. The court further wrote that “ADC’s policy prohibiting sexually explicit material violates the First Amendment on its face.”
PLN filed suit in 2015 after receiving notification from subscribers that the ADC was refusing to deliver certain issues of Prison Legal News. The then-current policy, promulgated in 2010, did not require notification to the publisher when a publication was denied. In 2016, the ADC amended DO 914 to require notification of publication denials and allow publishers an opportunity to appeal those decisions. In April 2017, the policy was again modified.
In its order granting in part and denying in part ...
(The New Press, Oct. 2019). 208 pages. $24.99 hardcover
Book review by Sam Feldman
Over 2.2 million people in America are being held in cages by the government, and Alec Karakatsanis’ new book demands that we ask why. Karakatsanis, a civil rights attorney and executive director of the Civil Rights Corps, has spent his career fighting mass incarceration. He is convinced that prisons, jails and the system that refers to itself as “law enforcement” are making us less safe, not more. In Usual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Injustice System, he sets out to demonstrate the hypocrisy, irrationality and everyday horrors of what he calls the “punishment bureaucracy.”
The three essays that make up Karakatsanis’ book were written at different points in his career and have different focuses, but his central themes are consistent and compelling. The supposed values of our criminal justice system – the impartial administration of law, reluctance to infringe on protected rights, safeguards against arbitrary abuse of power – are nowhere to be found in the communities subjected to surveillance, search and seizure, or in the courtrooms and cages through which the human beings extracted from those communities are processed.
Karakatsanis points ...
by Bill Barton
Sinetra Geter Johnson discovered she was pregnant just two days before she was required to report to prison on a parole violation. In October 2012, she began serving a two-year sentence at the Camille Graham Correctional Institution in Columbia, South Carolina. Twenty-four years old at the time, it was her first pregnancy. She was carrying twins: a girl, Karmin, and a boy, Kamrin.
Kamrin was born successfully in an ambulance parked on prison grounds. Tragically, however, Karmin was born preceding Kamrin, while her mother was sitting on a toilet in a prison bathroom. The baby girl did not survive; the twins were born 14 weeks early.
According to April 2019 news coverage of the incident, Karmin’s death could have been prevented if prison officials “had responded to Johnson’s calls – and later screams – for help” while she was in labor. Johnson filed a lawsuit in state court.
“I knew something was wrong,” she said. A nurse checked her vital signs, but she did not receive a vaginal exam and was not seen by an OB/GYN. Instead, Johnson, still in pain, was sent to work at the prison’s clothing plant. Hours later, she returned to the medical ...
by Matt Clarke
In June 2019, Washington State officials settled a lawsuit over conditions of confinement for mentally ill prisoners at the Washington State Penitentiary (WSP), by agreeing to improve their living conditions. The settlement will end mandatory 15-hour-per-day lockdowns of prisoners with mental health issues, regardless of their custody level, and will increase access to programming.
In 2018, attorneys Rachael Seevers, Heather McKimmie and David Clarkson with Disability Rights Washington (DRW), and Andrew Biviano, Breean Beggs and Mary Dillon with the law firm of Paukert & Troppmann PLLC, filed a federal civil rights suit against Washington State over the excessive use of lockdowns for mentally ill prisoners at WSP.
The problem was structural. Treatment programs for mentally ill prisoners were only available in a close custody unit at the facility. Close custody is high security – the next step down from maximum security – and prisoners in the close custody units were required to spend 15 hours a day locked in their cells with limited access to the communal dayroom and outside recreation. Thus, prisoners classified as minimum- or medium-security were being treated as if they were close custody simply because they were seeking mental health treatment.
“Essentially, what ...
by Ed Lyon
The final two weeks of 2018 were extremely busy for Florida’s Supreme Court with respect to capital punishment jurisprudence.
Florida codefendants Gerald Murray and Steven Taylor were convicted in separate trials for capital murder and sentenced to die by nonunanimous jury verdicts in the 1990s. Taylor’s case became final in 1994, but Murray won three new trials, each ending in a guilty judgment and death sentence, the last by an 11-1 jury verdict.
In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court negated Florida’s sentencing procedures under which Murray and Taylor were tried, finding that capital defendants had a right to have a jury determine all of the facts exposing them to a death sentence, rather than a judge making the final decision. See: Hurst v. Florida, 136 S.Ct. 616 (2016) [PLN, Feb. 2016, p.22]. Subsequent to that ruling, Florida’s Supreme Court held that a Sixth Amendment violation occurred in capital cases where a juror had not voted for a death sentence that was imposed, and such a violation could never be harmless error. Any death penalty assessed under such circumstances violated the state constitution.
Allowing for retroactive application of that decision, the Florida Supreme Court set ...
by Ed Lyon
From 2007 to 2016, New York’s prison population dropped by 17 percent, mainly due to efforts to divert low-level, first-time offenders into alternatives to incarceration. But during that same period the state’s number of elderly prisoners increased 46 percent. New York’s 10,337 elderly prisoners now represent around 20 percent of its total prison population.
A similar ratio exists in the four other largest state prison systems in the U.S. Texas has 142,000 prisoners, 28,502 of them elderly. California is next with 136,000 prisoners, of whom 27,806 are elderly. Florida follows with around 100,000 prisoners, 21,620 of them elderly. New York is fourth. Fifth is Pennsylvania with 51,000 prisoners, 10,214 of whom are elderly.
The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) housed about 176,700 prisoners as of October 2019, and 19.2 percent were over age 50. That is the age at which a prisoner is considered “elderly” by the National Institute of Corrections. At the current growth rate for the elderly prisoner population, as calculated by the ACLU, such prisoners will make up a third of the nation’s total prison population by 2030.
The problem is not limited to the costs of treating age-related health issues such as arthritis, ...
by Scott Grammer
A report by Jennifer Bronson, Ph.D. and E. Ann Carson, Ph.D., released by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in April 2019, found that at the end of 2017, the state and federal prison population had decreased by 1.2 percent from the previous year. The report stated that “[d]uring the same period, the number of prisoners under the jurisdiction of federal correctional authorities decreased by 6,100 (down 3%), and the number of prisoners under the jurisdiction of state correctional authorities fell by 12,600 (down 1%).” Those findings were based on the National Prisoner Statistics (NPS) program, administered by the BJS.
The report noted that “[t]he imprisonment rate for sentenced prisoners under state or federal jurisdiction decreased 2.1% from 2016 to 2017 (from 450 to 440 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents) and 13% from 2007 to 2017 (from 506 to 440 per 100,000).” It also found that 55 percent of prisoners in state facilities were incarcerated for violent offenses at the end of 2016, the last year for which data was available. But in the federal prison system, nearly 50 percent of federal prisoners “were serving a sentence for a drug-trafficking offense at ...
by Scott Grammer
A May 4, 2019 federal district court order in a five-year-old lawsuit over inadequate mental health care and a resultant high suicide rate in Alabama’s prison system was entered “in the wake of 15 inmate suicides in a 15-month period.”
The order stated that the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) “continues to fail to provide adequate suicide-prevention measures and, thus, subjects prisoners to a substantial risk of serious harm, including self-harm, continued pain and suffering, and suicide. The risk of suicide is so severe and imminent that the court must redress it immediately. Therefore, the court will grant the plaintiffs’ motion for immediate relief by making permanent most provisions of an interim suicide-prevention agreement that the parties reached early in this litigation; by adopting, in large measure, the recommendations proposed by experts for both parties; and by requiring court monitoring that is limited to the immediate relief ordered here.”
Previously, the district court had approved a partial settlement in the suit on claims related to mental health care and the Americans with Disabilities Act; it awarded $1 million in attorney fees, and later ordered Alabama officials to address problems with overcrowding and understaffing in state prisons. [See: ...
by Matt Clarke
On September 28, 2018, a Vermont federal judge approved a plea bargain to grant life without parole to a death-sentenced federal prisoner who had challenged the constitutionality of the death penalty in post-conviction proceedings.
Donald Fell was convicted of the interstate kidnapping and murder of Teresca King, which he and codefendant Robert Lee committed in 2000. Fell was convicted and sentenced to death in 2005, while Lee killed himself in jail before going to trial.
Fell filed a post-conviction challenge to the federal death penalty in November 2015, claiming disparate racial and geographic application caused it to be applied in an unreliable, arbitrary and discriminatory manner.
U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford agreed that the federal death penalty “operates in an arbitrary manner in which chance and bias play leading roles,” and that it “falls short of the [constitutional] standard ... for identifying defendants who meet objective criteria for imposition of the death penalty.” Nonetheless, he left the possibility of the death penalty in place on retrial, feeling he lacked “authority to rewrite the law so as to overrule the majority of the Supreme Court.” Judge Crawford overturned Fell’s death sentence because the prosecution had used ...
by Scott Grammer
Staffing shortages in the Missouri Department of Corrections (MDOC) have been problematic for a number of years, due in part to a high turnover rate fueled by the fact that MDOC employees are among the lowest-paid in the nation, with salaries starting at $28,000 per year. In September 2018, there were 4,733 guard positions in the MDOC, of which 848 (18 percent) were vacant.
A May 12, 2018 “sit-in” by prisoners at the Crossroads Correctional Center was due to anger over lockdowns and cuts in recreation time and other programs caused by short-staffing.
In May 2019, Missouri officials announced they were awarding a six-month, no-bid contract to the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) to evaluate MDOC staffing levels. The purchasing document said the ASCA was “the only feasible source from which to acquire the custody staffing evaluation services since it is the only national corrections organization to provide the required operations, management and staffing analysis.”
However, MDOC director Anne Precythe also happens to be the ASCA’s treasurer and is a member of the organization’s executive committee – a potential conflict of interest.
“The custody staffing evaluation is our effort to bring in outside industry experts to ...
by David M. Reutter
The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) agreed to pay $860,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the estate of a female prisoner who hanged herself after a guard placed a bet on whether she would become suicidal.
Janika Edmond, 25, had a documented history of “multiple attempts and threats of suicide” while held at the Lenawee County jail. That history was provided to officials at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility (WHV) upon her transfer to the prison in February 2013. From July 14, 2014 until August 18, 2015, Edmond exhibited self-injurious behavior and suicidal ideation and attempts on eight occasions.
Her history and diagnosis of mental illness and major depressive and mood disorders resulted in a prescription for psychotropic medication to treat her condition. On September 11, 2015, the MDOC issued a Mental Health Management Plan for Edmond. Under the plan’s “Behavior to Observe and Report” section, guards and other staff members were instructed to report disruptive behavior, refusal to take medication and “any behavior or verbalization of harm to self or others.”
Edmond was assigned to a segregation unit on November 2, 2015. She was placed in the unit’s “shower/module” by guard Dianna Callahan, ...
by David M. Reutter
Officials in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania paid $8,500 to settle a sexual harassment claim brought by a former female guard.
Tanisha Ramsey started working at the Allegheny County Jail on June 30, 2015. While being trained, she “began to be subjected to unwelcome sexual harassment from Major Robert Bytner.” His advances included following Ramsey on camera, sending her inappropriate text messages, asking her for pictures (including to see her in a bikini) and inviting her over to his place to swim alone.
The harassment continued until Bytner was terminated in November 2015. Ramsey’s complaint alleged that “Allegheny County was fully aware of Mr. Bytner’s propensity for sexually harassing female employees” at the jail.
After Ramsey complained about the sexual harassment, she was moved from pod duty to a less desirable position of phone duty. She was told by administrative officials that she would remain on phone duty until she stated in writing that she was satisfied with her work environment. Ramsey’s complaints resulted in “harassing and hostile comments” from other employees, she claimed, and a captain told her that if she wanted to keep her job, she should “keep her mouth shut.”
Ramsey’s last day of work ...
On October 22, 2019, a federal district court in Tallahassee awarded almost $1.2 million in attorneys’ fees and costs in a censorship lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC).
The suit, filed in 2011 by Prison Legal News, a project of the non-profit Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), followed years of censorship by the FDOC. Prison officials had rejected all issues of PLN, purportedly due to an incidental number of advertisements for prison phone services, penpals and companies that purchase postage stamps from prisoners. [See: PLN, Dec. 2011, p.32].
PLN, which has published for almost 30 years, is not censored on the basis of its advertisements in the 49 other state prison systems, nor in the federal Bureau of Prisons, including maximum-security facilities. PLN raised a First Amendment censorship claim as well as a due process claim for the FDOC’s failure to provide adequate notice when publications were rejected by prison staff.
Following a bench trial, in October 2015 the district court held the FDOC’s censorship practices did not violate the First Amendment, but that prison officials had violated PLN’s due process rights. The court issued a permanent injunction on the latter claim.
by Chad Marks
NBC anchorman Lester Holt has been to many prisons as part of his news reporting. But he had never slept in a locked cell for a few nights – until he went to the infamous Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in April 2019.
Holt said he and others at NBC wanted to shed light on overcrowding in prisons throughout the U.S. As part of his plan to “go big,” he met with some of the 5,500 prisoners at Angola, most serving life sentences. Holt also joined them on a bus ride to the fields to pick crops, went to the hospice ward where he met dying prisoners and spent two nights in the closed cell restriction unit that houses unruly prisoners.
“For two nights I slept and to a limited extent lived like an inmate in Angola, housed in a tiny cell in the same facility where the most difficult inmates are kept, and chillingly just a few steps away from death row,” Holt said. “Journalism thrives on access. To understand the issues of criminal justice reform that are now riding atop a bipartisan wave, it was important to me to get close. And so I did.” ...
Alabama: In September 2018, Grantt Culliver, then-Associate Commissioner for Operations for the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), was placed “on leave” after misconduct allegations surfaced. “Your absence from work is deemed to be in the best interest of the department due to the nature of the allegations against you,” his suspension notice stated. The nature of the misconduct was not initially disclosed. Effective November 30, 2018, Culliver opted for early retirement with his full state pension and an unrealized benefits check of nearly $30,000. “The investigation’s findings were sent to the Alabama Ethics Commission for review,” stated ADOC Public Information Manager Bob Horton. “Therefore, the ADOC cannot provide further comment at this time.” An initial complaint was ignored by ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn, but Governor Kay Ivey’s administration demanded a thorough probe. In January 2019, the Alabama Political Reporter revealed that two complaints had been filed alleging Culliver used his position to coerce women into sexual acts. “If a female staffer didn’t have sex with him, she was transferred to Timbuktu, Alabama. And if you did, it meant promotions or other favors.”
Arizona: After 17 years of employment with the federal Bureau of Prisons, Darrell E. McCoy, 51, ...