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Prison Legal News: December, 2019

Issue PDF
Volume 30, Number 12

In this issue:

  1. Wasted Minds: Prisoners Languish in Florida Prisons with Little Access to Education (p 1)
  2. From the Editor (p 16)
  3. Class Action Certified in Pennsylvania Jail Gender Discrimination Suit (p 17)
  4. HRDC Files Suit Against Michigan DOC Over Systemic, Statewide Censorship (p 18)
  5. Local Taxpayers Face Higher Taxes, Crime Rates Due to Death Penalty Trials (p 18)
  6. Lawsuit Proceeds Over Conditions at Orange County, California Jail (p 20)
  7. Florida Victims’ Rights Law Creates Confusion, Limits Time for Appeals (p 22)
  8. California Appellate Court Discusses Appointment of Counsel for Incarcerated Litigants (p 23)
  9. Seventh Circuit Reverses Two PLRA Dismissals for Failure to Comply with Court Forms (p 24)
  10. New York City’s Rikers Island Jail Expected to Close by 2026 (p 24)
  11. The Cost of Wrongful Convictions (p 26)
  12. Qualified Immunity Denied when Pretrial Detainees Deprived of Water at Illinois Jail (p 27)
  13. Eighth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Prisoner’s Suit Over Inadequate Shoes (p 28)
  14. Four Ohio Prisoners Shackled to Table Stabbed by Fellow Prisoner (p 28)
  15. Pennsylvania and Utah Expunge Criminal Cases to Help People Get Jobs, Find Housing (p 30)
  16. $2 Million Settlement After Woman Dies While Jailed for Unpaid Traffic Tickets (p 30)
  17. New York State Prisoners Sue to Get Their Pain Medications Back (p 31)
  18. Fourth Circuit Agrees Virginia’s Death Row Conditions Violated Eighth Amendment (p 32)
  19. Colorado Prisoner Receives $200,000 Settlement in Excessive Force Case (p 32)
  20. Prisoners at Indiana Jail Certified as a Class in Conditions of Confinement Suit (p 33)
  21. Companies Compete to Build New Alabama Prisons (p 34)
  22. Family Sues New Jersey Jail Over Prisoner Suicide (p 34)
  23. Texas Counties Waste Millions by Jailing Defendants Charged with Citation-Eligible Misdemeanors (p 35)
  24. Hickman’s Egg Farm Puts Prisoners to Work at High Cost to the Community, Residents Say (p 36)
  25. Ninth Circuit: Prisoner’s Withdrawal of Consent for Magistrate Judge Improperly Denied (p 38)
  26. Fourth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Virginia Prisoner’s Hep C Lawsuit (p 38)
  27. Overzealous Prosecutors Seek to Lock Up Prisoners Released Under First Step Act (p 40)
  28. PLRA Does Not Prevent In Forma Pauperis Appeal of Case that Resulted in Third Strike (p 40)
  29. Florida Prisoner Left a Quadriplegic After Brutal Beating by Guards (p 42)
  30. Life Sentence for Joyriding Overturned in California (p 43)
  31. Over Three Decades Later, Turner v. Safley Still Controls Many Prisoner Lawsuits (p 44)
  32. Eighth Circuit Reverses District Court’s Order Requiring Halal Meals (p 44)
  33. Many “Violent Offenders” Actually Committed Non-Violent Crimes (p 45)
  34. Illinois Prisoner Wins Partial Victory on Appeal in Hernia Treatment Suit (p 46)
  35. Judicial Abuse and Law Enforcement Corruption on Trial in Meek Mill Case (p 46)
  36. BJS Report Finds Sex Offenders Among Former Prisoners Least Likely to Re-Offend (p 48)
  37. FAMM, Washington Lawyers’ Committee, NACDL Launch Compassionate Release Clearinghouse (p 48)
  38. Georgia Prison System Ordered to Amend Policy to Allow Three-Inch Beards (p 50)
  39. Colorado Prisoner Dies as Nurse Watches Videotape; $2.45 Million Settlement (p 50)
  40. Project Hope Fights to End the Death Penalty ... from Death Row (p 51)
  41. Ohio Mother Loses Children and Job Due to False Arrest (p 52)
  42. Pennsylvania Prisoner Acquitted of Murder After 13-Year Battle – by Defending Himself in Retrial (p 52)
  43. New York Stops Testing Probationers for Marijuana Use (p 53)
  44. Solitary Confinement for Former Death Row Prisoner Held Unconstitutional (p 54)
  45. Food Survey Reveals Washington State Prisoners’ Concerns and Complaints (p 54)
  46. Summary Judgment Affirmed Against Publication in Civil Commitment Facility (p 56)
  47. Kansas Federal Court Holds U.S. Attorney’s Office in Contempt (p 56)
  48. Texas Jail Administrator Fired for Tampering with Government Documents (p 57)
  49. Los Angeles County to Pay $53 Million for Strip Searches of Female Prisoners (p 58)
  50. Medical, Mental Health Care Lacking at Florida Jail Despite 43 Years of Court Oversight (p 58)
  51. Ninth Circuit Reverses Seizure of Funds from Federal Prisoner for Restitution (p 59)
  52. Man Held in Jail Almost Three Months for Possession of ... Honey (p 60)
  53. Criminal Justice Leaders Reject Attorney General’s “Tough on Crime” Attitude (p 60)
  54. Court Denies Arizona DOC’s Motion to Terminate Monitoring of Prisoners’ Out-of-Cell Time (p 61)
  55. News in Brief (p 63)

Wasted Minds: Prisoners Languish in Florida Prisons with Little Access to Education

by Ryan McKinnon and Josh Salman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune / GateHouse Media

Dade Correctional Institution employs one teacher for a population of 1,500 men – and just 16 prisoners have earned GED diplomas there over the past four years.

Union Correctional Institution, a North Florida prison with a capacity of nearly ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

In 1994, President Clinton ended Pell grant eligibility for prisoners in legislation spearheaded by then-senator, and now presidential candidate, Joe Biden. That pretty much signaled the end of what little higher education existed in U.S. prisons, as state legislatures quickly followed suit to terminate whatever modest state ...

Class Action Certified in Pennsylvania Jail Gender Discrimination Suit

by David M. Reutter and Matt Clarke

A civil rights case alleging Berks County, Pennsylvania denied equal protection to female prisoners classified as trustees has been certified as a class action. After issuing a preliminary injunction to two different prisoners, the federal district court found that piecemeal injunctions for short-term ...

HRDC Files Suit Against Michigan DOC Over Systemic, Statewide Censorship

On August 22, 2019, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), PLN’s parent non-profit organization, filed suit in federal court in the Eastern District of Michigan after its publications mailed to state prisoners were censored by prison officials.

The 36-page complaint, which names Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) director Heidi ...

Local Taxpayers Face Higher Taxes, Crime Rates Due to Death Penalty Trials

by Dale Chappell

Taxpayers in Texas counties where death penalty cases are held get hit with a double whammy: Not only do they face higher property taxes to pay for the trials, they also have to deal with increased crime rates after public safety spending is reduced to offset those ...

Lawsuit Proceeds Over Conditions at Orange County, California Jail

by Ed Lyon

A federal civil rights lawsuit filed in April 2019 against Orange County, California Sheriff Don Barnes was granted class-action status in September 2019 to include all detainees at the Orange County Jail (OCJ) whose telephone conversations with their attorneys were illegally recorded by GTL, the jail’s phone ...

Florida Victims’ Rights Law Creates Confusion, Limits Time for Appeals

by David M. Reutter

A constitutional amendment passed by Florida voters in November 2018 requires that victims’ privacy must be protected, in order to prevent retaliation after the criminal (or alleged criminal) is released from prison or jail, whether after completion of a sentence or on bond. However, details regarding ...

California Appellate Court Discusses Appointment of Counsel for Incarcerated Litigants

by David M. Reutter

California’s Fifth Appellate District held on August 6, 2019 that trial courts are responsible for recognizing their discretionary duty to appoint counsel and experts to ensure indigent civil prisoner litigants are afforded meaningful access to the courts.

Before the Appellate District was an appeal brought by ...

Seventh Circuit Reverses Two PLRA Dismissals for Failure to Comply with Court Forms

by Ed Lyon

On August 13, 2019, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in a consolidated ruling, vacated the dismissals of two lawsuits based on the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA).

The PLRA contains a “three strikes” provision that allows a district court to dismiss a prisoner’s pro se civil ...

New York City’s Rikers Island Jail Expected to Close by 2026

by Chad Marks

The Rikers Island jail complex, one of the largest urban lockups in the United States, will soon be closing its doors if New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has his way. Operating under a 2015 consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which found ...

The Cost of Wrongful Convictions

The Beatrice Six know something about lost time. The group of six defendants, outcasts from the small town of Beatrice, Nebraska, lost a combined 77 years of their lives in state prisons for a rape and murder they didn’t commit.

After they were cleared in 2009, they had to battle ...

Qualified Immunity Denied when Pretrial Detainees Deprived of Water at Illinois Jail

by David M. Reutter

On August 12, 2019, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals denied qualified immunity to officials at Illinois’ Lake County Adult Correctional Institution (LCACI) who deprived pretrial detainees of sufficient water and sanitation for three days.

The matter was before the appellate court after the defendants, Sheriff ...

Eighth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Prisoner’s Suit Over Inadequate Shoes

by Chad Marks

Geronimo DeLuna was housed at theMower County jail in Minnesota when guards made him wear shoes that were too small for his feet. The improperly-sized footwear, according to DeLuna, resulted in a blister that caused a severe infection requiring multiple corrective surgeries over a 10-day period.

Along ...

Four Ohio Prisoners Shackled to Table Stabbed by Fellow Prisoner

by Scott Grammer

On June 4, 2017 at the maximum-security Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) in Lucasville, four prisoners who were playing cards while shackled to a table in a dayroom area were attacked and stabbed by another prisoner, convicted murderer Greg Reinke.

Surveillance video footage captured the 37-year-old Reinke ...

Pennsylvania and Utah Expunge Criminal Cases to Help People Get Jobs, Find Housing

by Dale Chappell

Nearly 30 million criminal arrest and conviction records – those of anyone ever apprehended for a low-level crime in Pennsylvania – will automatically be expunged under a new law passed in June 2019 designed to help combat discrimination in employment, housing and education.

Under a change to ...

$2 Million Settlement After Woman Dies While Jailed for Unpaid Traffic Tickets

by Anthony W. Accurso

A woman was booked into jail in Mineral County, Nevada on traffic violations, and died days later due to medical neglect.

Kelly Coltrain, 27, was visiting her family in July 2017 to celebrate a family reunion and her grandmother’s 75th birthday. After the celebrations, she was ...

New York State Prisoners Sue to Get Their Pain Medications Back

by Kevin Bliss

Eighteen prisoners filed suit against the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) on September 2, 2019, alleging denial of access to vital pain medication necessary for the treatment of their chronic medical conditions.

The DOCCS implemented a policy in 2017 that requires senior ...

Fourth Circuit Agrees Virginia’s Death Row Conditions Violated Eighth Amendment

by Scott Grammer

Almost 120 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the harm that solitary confinement causes. Prior to 2015, prisoners on Virginia’s death row were housed in solitary in 71-square-foot cells (about the size of a sub-compact car) for 23 to 24 hours per day. They were only ...

Colorado Prisoner Receives $200,000 Settlement in Excessive Force Case

by Scott Grammer

On September 10, 2014, Colorado prisoner Shawn Lovett was serving a 30-year sentence at the Centennial Correctional Facility in Fremont County when he was moved from one part of the prison to another by guards Shannon Proud and Anthony Martinez. Video footage showed Martinez jerking Lovett’s ankle ...

Prisoners at Indiana Jail Certified as a Class in Conditions of Confinement Suit

by Kevin Bliss

In June 2019, an Indiana federal district court held that a former jail detainee, Adam Bell, had presented sufficient evidence to fulfill the requirements to certify a class comprised of all current and future prisoners at the Henry County jail in a lawsuit alleging unconstitutional and inhumane ...

Companies Compete to Build New Alabama Prisons

by David M. Reutter

In the face of a looming federal lawsuit over conditions inside its prison system, Alabama is moving forward with a $900 million plan to build three new men’s facilities. Five companies have submitted a Statement of Qualifications (SOQ) to be considered for the project.

As PLN ...

Family Sues New Jersey Jail Over Prisoner Suicide

by Ed Lyon

Did you hear the one about the prisoner who allegedly hanged himself while restrained in a straitjacket? That isn’t an opening line for a sick joke; rather, it’s the contention of officials in Essex County, New Jersey when trying to explain the death of jail detainee Lucas ...

Texas Counties Waste Millions by Jailing Defendants Charged with Citation-Eligible Misdemeanors

by Matt Clarke

In April 2019, social justice advocacy nonprofit Texas Appleseed released an analysis of jail bookings in a dozen of the most populous counties throughout Texas. The study examined the most serious charge that people faced when booked into jail, to determine the percentage of misdemeanor bookings. In ...

Hickman’s Egg Farm Puts Prisoners to Work at High Cost to the Community, Residents Say

by Chad Marks

Since 1995, hundreds of Arizona prisoners have held part-time jobs at Hickman’s Family Farms near Arlington, part of an effort by the state Department of Corrections (DOC) to help them successfully reenter society after serving their sentences. But in October 2018, local residents joined with environmental activists ...

Ninth Circuit: Prisoner’s Withdrawal of Consent for Magistrate Judge Improperly Denied

by Kevin Bliss

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on August 28, 2019 that a California prisoner’s motion to withdraw consent to have a magistrate judge hear his case was improperly denied, and that dismissal of a defendant and a deliberate indifference claim were erroneous.

Corey Dwayne Gilmore was ...

Fourth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Virginia Prisoner’s Hep C Lawsuit

by David M. Reutter

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held on September 4, 2019 that prison officials responsible for a policy that prevented a Virginia prisoner from receiving treatment for the hepatitis C virus (HCV) could be found deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs.

That ruling came in ...

Overzealous Prosecutors Seek to Lock Up Prisoners Released Under First Step Act

by Chad Marks

In December 2018, President Trump signed the First Step Act into law. Among other reforms, the legislation reduced some of the penalties for crack cocaine offenses. For many years, there were complaints that crack cocaine sentences were overly harsh and disproportionately affected black defendants.

Since the enactment ...

PLRA Does Not Prevent In Forma Pauperis Appeal of Case that Resulted in Third Strike

by Matt Clarke

On July 18, 2019, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) does not prohibit a prisoner from being granted in forma pauperis status when appealing the dismissal of a case that resulted in his third strike under 28 U.S.C. § ...

Florida Prisoner Left a Quadriplegic After Brutal Beating by Guards

by David M. Reutter

On August 21, 2019, prison guards at the Lowell Correctional Institution (LCI) near Ocala, Florida allegedly beat Cheryl Weimar “to within an inch of her life” because the 51-year-old prisoner – who was left a quadriplegic following the attack – refused to clean a toilet, according ...

Life Sentence for Joyriding Overturned in California

by Scott Grammer

Kenneth Oliver, 52, was only 29 when he received a life sentence under California’s “three strikes” law for repeat felons. He was arrested while joyriding in a stolen car as a passenger, and a stolen handgun was later found in his hotel room. His previous convictions included ...

Over Three Decades Later, Turner v. Safley Still Controls Many Prisoner Lawsuits

by Matt Clarke

Nebraska officials have prevented a couple from marrying for seven years. Both are state prisoners, and they have filed a lawsuit to force the prison system to let them wed.

Oddly enough, the controlling case is the much-maligned, over-three-decades-old U.S. Supreme Court decision in Turner v. Safley ...

Eighth Circuit Reverses District Court’s Order Requiring Halal Meals

by Chad Marks

Abdulhakim Muhammad, a state prisoner in Arkansas, filed suit under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000 cc-1 to 2000 cc-5. He argued that the Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) refused to provide him with ...

Many “Violent Offenders” Actually Committed Non-Violent Crimes

by Bill Barton

The conservative Heritage Foundation said in December 2018 that “our federal prisons house thousands of low-level offenders and America must do better.”

According to a survey of laws in all 50 states by The Marshall Project, there are more than a dozen states where people can be ...

Illinois Prisoner Wins Partial Victory on Appeal in Hernia Treatment Suit

by Ed Lyon

On July 26, 2019, a panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part a district court’s judgment as a matter of law against Illinois prisoner Gregory Wilson, who had filed suit against for-profit medical care provider Wexford Health Sources.

Wilson ...

Judicial Abuse and Law Enforcement Corruption on Trial in Meek Mill Case

by Kevin Bliss

A Pennsylvania appellate court granted Meek Mill (born Robert Rihmeek Williams) a new trial with a different judge following a motion alleging the police officer who testified against him, Reginald Graham, had perjured himself and the presiding judge, Genece Brinkley, exhibited extreme bias.

The case made national ...

BJS Report Finds Sex Offenders Among Former Prisoners Least Likely to Re-Offend

by Scott Grammer

In May 2019 the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) issued a report, titled “Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from State Prison: A 9-Year Follow-Up (2005-14),” that examined 67,966 former prisoners over a nine-year period after their release in 30 different states in 2005. The report explained that ...

FAMM, Washington Lawyers’ Committee, NACDL Launch Compassionate Release Clearinghouse

The First Step Act paves the way for a massive pro bono effort to represent sick, dying and elderly prisoners in court.

WASHINGTON – Thousands of sick, dying and elderly federal prisoners who are eligible for early release will now have access to free legal representation in court through the ...

Georgia Prison System Ordered to Amend Policy to Allow Three-Inch Beards

by David M. Reutter

A Georgia federal district court has held that a policy limiting prisoners’ beard length to half an inch without religious exemptions violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The court ordered the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDOC) to allow eligible prisoners to grow ...

Colorado Prisoner Dies as Nurse Watches Videotape; $2.45 Million Settlement

by Ed Lyon

In September 2019, the final signature of an Arapahoe County, Colorado official was affixed to a $2.45 million settlement agreement in a civil rights lawsuit over the death of prisoner Jeffrey Scott Lillis. Lillis was 37 years old when he was booked into the Arapahoe County Detention ...

Project Hope Fights to End the Death Penalty ... from Death Row

by Bill Barton

The executive director of Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, Esther Brown, is a former psychiatric social worker who has been called “the most loyal person I’ve ever met” by a prisoner on Alabama’s death row.

Brown, 85, has been the public face of the organization ...

Ohio Mother Loses Children and Job Due to False Arrest

by Ed Lyon

On April 11, 2019, Ohio police executed an arrest warrant for heroin trafficking in a Target parking lot in Hamilton County. Their target was Ashley Foster, who was in the lot not with a load of heroin but with her two sons – one of whom was ...

Pennsylvania Prisoner Acquitted of Murder After 13-Year Battle – by Defending Himself in Retrial

by Kevin Bliss

Representing himself during a fourth trial on a murder charge, Hassan Bennett was acquitted and released following a 13-year legal fight – an extraordinary feat.

Bennett, 36, was serving a life sentence without parole for the ambush shooting death of a friend, Devon English. His defense was ...

New York Stops Testing Probationers for Marijuana Use

by Dale Chappell

The New York City Council voted in April 2019 to stop testing probationers for marijuana use. The move was a step toward reducing re-incarceration of probationers and parolees, and may be a foreshadowing of the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state.

There are currently 4.5 million ...

Solitary Confinement for Former Death Row Prisoner Held Unconstitutional

by David M. Reutter

A Connecticut federal district court held on August 27, 2019 that a former death row prisoner who was kept in solitary confinement had been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. The court issued injunctive relief and set a hearing for damages.

The ruling came in a ...

Food Survey Reveals Washington State Prisoners’ Concerns and Complaints

by Matt Clarke

It might be classified as “better late than never,” but a March 2019 report on a food survey of prisoners at the Washington State Penitentiary (WSP), undertaken by the state’s Office of the Corrections Ombuds, cast light on the kinds of problems with prison food that led ...

Summary Judgment Affirmed Against Publication in Civil Commitment Facility

by David M. Reutter

n August 21, 2019, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a grant of summary judgment to officials who had banned a civil commitment detainee’s newsletter and placed page limits on the copying of a successor publication.

James Pesci is incarcerated at Florida’s Civil Commitment Center ...

Kansas Federal Court Holds U.S. Attorney’s Office in Contempt

by Matt Clarke

On August 13, 2019, federal judge Julie Robinson issued a 188-page order holding the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas in contempt of court for its pattern of misrepresentation, obfuscation and lack of cooperation during a three-year probe previously reported in PLN. [See: PLN, May 2019, p.14; May ...

Texas Jail Administrator Fired for Tampering with Government Documents

by Matt Clarke

The Hill County Sheriff’s Office in Texas fired the head of the county jail on June 19, 2019. Jail Captain Sherry “Diann” Hammer, 68, had been on administrative leave since March while Texas Ranger Jake Burson investigated allegations that she had ordered a jailer to shred the ...

Los Angeles County to Pay $53 Million for Strip Searches of Female Prisoners

by Chad Marks

In 2010, a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of female prisoners at the Century Regional Detention Facility (CRDF) in Los Angeles who were forced to undergo humiliating strip and visual body cavity searches.

The searches were conducted outdoors in a bus garage area, where the women ...

Medical, Mental Health Care Lacking at Florida Jail Despite 43 Years of Court Oversight

by David M. Reutter

Despite oversight by a federal court since 1976, the Broward County Jail (BCJ) in Florida does not provide adequate medical or mental health treatment to prisoners. Since 2018, at least ten detainees have died while in the jail’s custody.

BCJ reached a new settlement agreement in ...

Ninth Circuit Reverses Seizure of Funds from Federal Prisoner for Restitution

by Ed Lyon

In a case decided on August 28, 2019, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a district court’s order allowing the federal Bureau of Prisons to seize $6,671.81 from prisoner Lonnie Eugene Lillard’s institutional trust account. The U.S. Attorney had initiated the seizure process pursuant ...

Man Held in Jail Almost Three Months for Possession of ... Honey

by Dale Chappell

A man sat in jail for nearly three months while the police tried twice at different labs to prove that jars of honey he had in his possession contained liquid methamphetamine. And even when they discovered it was in fact honey, they wouldn’t let him go.

Leon ...

Criminal Justice Leaders Reject Attorney General’s “Tough on Crime” Attitude

by David M. Reutter

After U.S. Attorney General William Barr gave a speech condemning criminal justice reforms, 70 criminal justice leaders signed a statement rejecting his narrative. The signatories included current and former prosecutors, police chiefs, judges and assistant attorneys general.

Barr’s August 12, 2019 speech was presented at the ...

Court Denies Arizona DOC’s Motion to Terminate Monitoring of Prisoners’ Out-of-Cell Time

by Douglas Ankney

On September 16, 2019, federal judge Roslyn O. Silver signed an order that denied, in part, a motion filed by the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC) to terminate monitoring of out-of-cell exercise time for prisoners housed in maximum-security units.

The ADOC moved to terminate its obligation to ...

News in Brief

Arizona: Pima County jail guard Jason Hubert was back at work as of March 5, 2019, after being placed on administrative leave the previous month. On Valentine’s Day, prisoner David Ray Maxwell, 53, was being disruptive. Hubert attempted to calm him, but a scuffle ensued. According to TV station ...