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Prison Legal News: December, 2019

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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 2,200, graduated only nine prisoners during that time.

Century Correctional Institution in the Panhandle went years on end without awarding a single educational certificate.

Prisons have instead emphasized warehousing, creating an environment where prisoner idleness, surging staff turnover and a lack of incentives for good behavior have engendered violence.

“Education is so important in terms of trying to break cycles like poverty and jail sentences,” said Larry Ahern, a former Republican state representative from Pinellas County. “You can’t keep putting people behind bars and not do anything to help them on the inside.”

Nearly 55,000 offenders across Florida will walk out of state prisons during the next five years.

Many will be worse off than when they went in.

The nation’s third largest prison system offers virtually no meaningful education to prisoners, despite overwhelming evidence that it is the strongest antidote to recidivism.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune and parent company GateHouse ...

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 funding had been available for prison college programs. The days of prisoners being able to earn degrees, with a few exceptions, became a thing of the past.

But even basic education like GEDs and vocational certificates became harder to obtain as well. Not surprisingly, with the exception of Texas, states in the Deep South, which already had the highest levels of illiteracy outside of prison, quickly raced to the bottom and have remained there ever since. As this issue’s cover story about the dearth of education in Florida’s medieval prison system shows, very little educational opportunities exist for prisoners in that state. Alas, Florida prisoners will not be able to read about it, both due to high levels of illiteracy resulting from a lack of educational programs and also because the Florida DOC continues to censor all issues of Prison Legal News statewide.

This issue of PLN is dedicated to ...

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 prisoners was not the answer.

The complaint challenged the disparity in treatment of female and male prisoners classified as having trustee status at the Berks County Prison. Prisoners with that status are allowed to work in the community and charged $50 per week for the privilege of doing so. That is the only similarity in the conditions of male and female trustees.

Male trustees are housed in a separate Community Reentry Center “with, among other benefits, dorm-style unlocked cells attached to community day rooms, thirteen hours of daily recreation time, unlimited access to toilets/showers, meals served in a community day room, less risk of lockdown” and several reentry programs.

Female trustees, by contrast, are held at the main jail with “locked cells, no more than six hours of daily recreation, limited access to toilets/showers, meals served in [the] cell, more lockdowns, and fewer” reentry programs, the district court found.

The ...

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 Washington and wardens at the Michigan Reformatory and the Saginaw, Ionia and Lakeland correctional facilities, states: “Defendants have adopted and implemented mail policies and practices prohibiting delivery of written speech from HRDC while failing to provide due process notice of and an opportunity to challenge that censorship.”

For the past 29 years, HRDC has published Prison Legal News. More recently it began publishing Criminal Legal News, which reports on issues related to criminal law, policing, sentencing, and prosecutorial and judicial misconduct. HRDC also distributes a number of book titles, mostly self-help books of interest to prisoners, such as Protecting Your Health and Safety.

Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News pose no threat to any legitimate penological interests,” HRDC stated in its complaint. “However, in numerous instances prison officials erroneously rejected issues of Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News, on the grounds that content of the ...

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 costs.

A study conducted by researchers at West Virginia University found that Texas counties bear additional judicial expenses averaging $1.4 million over the two years leading up to the conclusion of a death penalty trial – the cost of which is covered by an average increase in property taxes of two percent a year while the case is pending.

However, the same counties also reduce public safety spending an average of $2.8 million for the two years leading up to a death penalty trial, in order to offset its costs – resulting in an increase in crime rates in the counties where such trials are held.

As an example, the study cited an eight percent hike in property taxes in Jasper County, Texas to fund a death penalty trial for John William King, the last of three white supremacists convicted of capital murder for the grisly 1998 dragging death of ...

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 contractor. [See: PLN, May 2019, p.14].

Among the named plaintiffs are three criminal defense attorneys: Stephen Bartol, Walter Cole and Ronald McGregor. They all claim that their phone conversations with clients at the jail were illegally monitored and recorded by OCJ staff.

Sheriff Barnes admitted that contracted staff had improperly monitored 58 such calls, a number he later amended to 347. But the plaintiffs claim the number of phone calls illegally monitored and recorded was actually “in the hundreds of thousands,” based on the sheriff’s own estimate of 60,000 annual bookings at OCJ. The jail system has an average daily population of 5,400 detainees.

The plaintiffs in the case are represented by attorneys Joel Garson, Richard Herman and Nicholas Kohan. It was Garson who uncovered the illegal phone monitoring and recording activity at the jail when he discovered his trial strategy had been revealed to prosecutors during a criminal ...

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 implementation of the law have proved difficult to figure out, leaving a hodgepodge of law enforcement practices around the state. Meanwhile, civil rights advocates say the law’s strict time limits to complete appeals in criminal cases increase the risk that an innocent person may be executed.

Known as “Marsy’s Law,” Amendment Six to Florida’s Constitution follows a nationwide trend championed by California tech billionaire Henry T. Nicholas III; the law is named for his sister Marsalee, a college student who was stalked and murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. A week after her death, when the alleged killer was released on bond on a second-degree murder charge, he confronted Nicholas and his mother in a grocery store. [See: PLN, Feb. 2018, p.52].

Ironically, Nicholas has faced criminal charges himself; he was arrested in August 2018 after police officers found cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and meth in his Las Vegas hotel ...

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 California prisoner Gregory Smith, who alleged medical malpractice claims against a doctor and nurse practitioner that occurred between August 2011 and December 2013 while he was held at the Pleasant Valley State Prison. Smith moved for appointment of counsel.

In denying his motion, the trial court said it had authority to appoint counsel to criminal defendants but lacked authority to appoint counsel in a civil case. Subsequent to that denial, as Smith predicted, he could not obtain a medical expert’s declaration to contradict the defendants’ expert opinion that the care he received met the applicable standard of care. That resulted in the trial court granting summary judgment to the defendants.

The Appellate District found that precedent cases had identified appointment of counsel as one of the discretionary measures available to a trial court to assure an indigent prisoner is provided meaningful access to the courts to prosecute a civil action. ...

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 rights action upon a finding that he or she had three prior filings that were found to be frivolous, malicious or failed to state a claim for relief.

Here, the appellate court reviewed the “elaborate” and rather exhaustive form the district courts for the Northern District of Illinois require all in forma pauperis applicants to complete before proceeding with their suits, characterizing it as a “local rule imposing a requirement of form” that “cannot be ‘enforced in a way that causes a party to lose any right because of a nonwillful failure to comply.’” Among other things, the form requires litigants to list all of their prior cases, including those that resulted in PLRA strikes.

On October 20, 2017, Illinois state prisoner Fabian Greyer filed two civil rights actions. His only prior court filing was a habeas corpus petition. The district court ordered Greyer to explain why he did not ...

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 a consistent pattern of civil rights abuses at the jail, the facility’s population has shrunk to around 7,000 – one-third as many prisoners as the 21,000 housed there in 1991. [See: PLN, Nov. 2017, p.32].

“Closing Rikers Island is a key piece of creating a smaller, safer and fairer criminal justice system in New York City,” de Blasio said.

Along with gang activity, prisoner-on-staff assaults and excessive use of force by guards – a “deep-seated culture of violence,” as described in a 2014 report by the DOJ – the jail complex’s nine facilities have steadily deteriorated. One, the George Motchan Detention Center, was shuttered in June 2018. But closing the rest of Rikers Island comes with a hefty price tag.

Even without detailed cost estimates, the city says it needs to budget $8.7 billion for a replacement plan to construct smaller, 1,150-bed jails in each of four boroughs: Brooklyn, Queens ...

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 the county that prosecuted them for more than a decade before they finally obtained a $28.1 million jury award in 2016 in compensation for their wrongful convictions. [See: PLN, Jan. 2017, p.54]. Now they also face resentment over the payout from many of their neighbors in Gage County, whose 22,000 residents are staring at hefty tax increases due to the jury award. In September 2018, the county raised the property tax rate to the maximum allowed under Nebraska’s constitution.

“They knew too much about it to be innocent,” insisted Karen Probst, whose family likely faces a $10,000 tax hike.

“This is not something you win at the lottery, something I’m inheriting from a rich relative,” countered Kathy Gonzales, one of the Beatrice Six. “Nobody wants this.”

The case dates to February 1985, when 68-year-old Helen Wilson was raped and murdered in her apartment. The official inquiry found another credible ...

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 Mark Curran and Chief of Corrections David Wathan, appealed the district court’s denial of their motion to dismiss on qualified immunity grounds.

The suit was filed by pretrial detainees at LCACI who claimed that from November 7 to 10, 2017, they became “sick, sleep deprived, and agitated” due to the continuous presence of excrement in their cells. Their complaint further alleged that a concurrent lack of drinking water caused numerous physical ailments. Despite it being a planned event, the jail’s water had been shut off on November 7 without forewarning to prisoners.

The purpose, according to Wathan, was to replace a water booster pump at the facility. Detainees were given five bottles of water per day for their personal use. A water barrel was provided in each pod for bathing, cleaning and flushing toilets in the cells. Flushing was limited to only when feces were present, and no flushing was ...

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 with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, DeLuna filed suit in federal court. He raised a claim of negligence, arguing the too-small shoes resulted in a Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) infection. He also cited inadequate medical care and failure to adequately train jail staff in providing suitable shoes, among other causes of action.

The defendants moved for summary judgment. The district court concluded that DeLuna failed to show the county had breached a duty of care, and failed to show how any such breach proximately caused his injuries. Further, the court concluded the county was entitled to vicarious official immunity. In particular, it found that providing prisoners with “suitable” shoes was a discretionary duty, and that the guards did not act willfully and maliciously when providing DeLuna with shoes that were too small for him.

DeLuna appealed to the Eighth Circuit, arguing the district court’s ruling was erroneous and that ...

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 – who was shackled at the ankles but whose hands were free, despite a long history of violence in custody – as he suddenly stood from a table near the four other prisoners and retrieved a seven-inch shiv. He then repeatedly stabbed the four, who were chained to their table and unable to flee.

“He was trying to kill us for sure,” said one of the victims, 29-year-old Shamieke D. Pugh.

Another prisoner eventually broke free and fought back; the attack lasted almost a full minute before a guard entered the area and began moving toward Reinke. The injured prisoners were freed from the table about three minutes later. Reinke was searched and a second shiv was found.

Pugh, who was stabbed a dozen times, sustained injuries so severe that he required a two-week recovery at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. He was released from prison in 2019 after ...

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 the state’s “Clean Slate” law, cases eligible to be sealed include arrests at least 60 days old that did not result in convictions, convictions for nonviolent crimes committed more than a decade ago and recent misdemeanors that resulted in less than two years in prison.

Those cases will now be automatically expunged, meaning that the record – while still available to law enforcement agencies – will no longer be accessible by employers, landlords or schools that conduct background checks.

Previously, an individual with such a criminal record had to file a request to have it sealed. But as of June 2019, only a judge’s signature is required to verify that the case falls under one of the categories eligible for automatic expungement.

“Even though we don’t have caste and social class, we really do,” a Pennsylvania woman named Nicole told National Public Radio,explaining that while she had never been convicted ...

$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 pulled over for speeding in Mineral County. Discovering that she had unresolved traffic violations in another county, deputies booked her into the Mineral County Jail (MCJ). Her bail was set at $1,750.

Coltrain initially refused to answer questions about her next of kin and medical conditions during the intake process. After learning the amount of her bail, she informed Sgt. Jim Holland that she was drug-dependant and had a history of seizures.

Despite a jail policy that required prisoners with a history of seizures to be reviewed by hospital staff prior to being admitted to the facility, MCJ placed Coltrain in a “max” cell where she was to be checked at least every 30 minutes. It was later determined that deputies rarely checked on her, instead preferring to watch her on video camera – which was also a violation of established jail policy.

Four hours after she was booked, Coltrain ...

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 prison medical staff to sign off on commonly used prescriptions in an effort to better monitor and restrict those drugs.

DOCCS spokesman Thomas Mailey said the agency is “committed to battling the opioid epidemic and stemming the tide of addiction which has greatly affected incarcerated individuals in the Department’s custody.”

In their complaint, the prisoners allege that the added approval of the senior medical staff is rarely given, affecting hundreds of prisoners with legitimate medical needs.

Pain management is complicated, said NYU Langone Health clinical assistant professor Lipi Roy. Healthcare professionals must balance physical and emotional trauma with possible misuse or abuse, and their training does not deal with this topic sufficiently.

The two main drugs cited in the lawsuit were Ultram and Neurontin. Ultram uses an opioid painkiller while Neurontin contains gabapentin, which targets nerve pain and is believed to increase the “high” delivered by opioids. Gabapentin is not ...

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 allowed one 10-minute shower three days a week, and received just one hour of outdoor recreation five days a week, in a parking-space sized steel and wire mesh cage.

In November 2014, condemned prisoners Thomas Porter, Anthony Juniper, Ricky Gray, Ivan Teleguz and Mark Lawlor sued in federal court raising Eighth Amendment claims. Shortly after the case was filed, prison officials changed the conditions on death row. A new exercise yard was constructed. Prisoners were provided more time for recreation, including indoor recreation with other prisoners. They were allowed showers every day, and contact visits with family members.

On February 21, 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Leonie M. Brinkema awarded summary judgment to plaintiffs Porter, Juniper and Lawlor. Gray had been executed on January 18, 2017, while Teleguz had his death sentence commuted in April 2017. The district court held that “under the undisputed evidence, the conditions of confinement on ...

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 chain, which sent him face-first into the concrete floor. Lovett, whose hands were cuffed behind his back, suffered a fractured skull. [See: PLN, Sept. 2017, p.63].

“It’s very disturbing,” said attorney Sarah Schielke, who represented Lovett. “It’s very disturbing to watch. Both Officer Proud and Officer Martinez are on the full weight of their bodies and their knees in his back. They are pushing into his neck and back and yelling at him to stop resisting!”

In 2016, Lovett filed suit against Martinez and Proud. According to his complaint, he sued for deliberate indifference to his “clearly established constitutional rights under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as demonstrated by their malicious assault and infliction of pain.” Also named as defendants were Dr. Richard Hodge and nurse Torri Arthur-Cain for “their willful failure to provide critical medical treatment.” Another defendant, Colorado DOC Deputy Executive Director Kellie Wasko, was sued ...

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 conditions of confinement.

Bell filed the lawsuit while being held at the county jail, saying the facility was originally designed to house 76 prisoners but officials began adding additional bunks and mattresses to cells without required authorization, expanding the capacity to 116 beds.

He said the facility had been deemed overcrowded 100 percent of the time by the chief jail inspector of the Indiana Department of Correction. Prisoners had been forced to sleep on floors, in offices, in indoor recreation areas and near cellblock toilets. Bell also alleged that the facility was constantly understaffed, which, with the overcrowded conditions, had resulted in assaults, other violent incidents and “continuous tension and dangerous situations in the [cell] block.”

Henry County acknowledged the claims of additional beds added to the jail but denied that Bell’s claims accurately stated the facts. County officials said they did not have more prisoners than permanent bunks; they ...

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 has reported, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a report in April 2019 that found Alabama prisoners are subject to high levels of violence and sexual assault. [See: PLN, Sept. 2019, p.44]. Under the terms of a separate federal lawsuit, the state Department of Corrections (DOC) has been ordered to add 2,000 guards as part of needed improvements in substandard mental health care. [See: PLN, May 2019, p.50].

DOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn has argued for years that the state’s prisons are too old, too dangerous and too small. Yet except for a small January 2019 hike in the pay for prison guards – which, at an average of $34,050 per year, is still among the lowest in the country – state legislators have balked at taking action, citing excessive costs or concerns about closing prisons in their districts.

In both 2018 and 2017, lawmakers voted against an ...

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 Vieira.

Vieira, who struggled with substance abuse and mental illness and was being held for a probation violation due to a positive drug test, was found dead in his cell. He was in a straitjacket and on suicide watch at the time.

In 2017, WNYC News conducted an investigation into the high prisoner death rate in New Jersey county jails. In response, Governor Philip Murphy pledged to ramp up oversight of the troubled lock-ups.

That apparently did not happen. One of the new guidelines, published in December 2018, requires a morbidity report to be completed after all jail suicides. When WYNC News requested Vieira’s morbidity report from a jail records custodian under the state’s open records law on April 2, 2019, they were told no such document existed. A report was then generated two days later – eight months after Vieira’s death. Pursuant to New Jersey statutes, that particular record ...

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 all but one county, there were overwhelmingly more misdemeanor bookings than felony bookings. Further, thousands of people were jailed on fine-only charges eligible for citations – that is, ticketing offenses.

Texas has three classes of misdemeanors. Class A carries up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. Class B charges have a maximum of 180 days in jail and a fine of $2,000. Class C is fine-only, with a maximum of $500. All Class C misdemeanors, some Class B – such as possession of marijuana and petty theft – and a few Class A are subject to citations. That means booking into a jail is not required, but at the arresting officer’s discretion.

“Jail stays, even short ones, can cause sustained damage to people’s lives,” according to the analysis. “When people are booked into jail they may lose their employment, damaging their families’ economic stability. They may also ...

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 to file a $264 million federal lawsuit alleging the egg farm operation in Arlington and nearby Tonopah produces enough ammonia and other noxious gasses to affect their health. Two other lawsuits have since been filed by prisoners who were injured on the job at the farm.

Billy Hickman, vice president of operations for the company, admitted to U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow that the egg farm produces ammonia, about 1,000 pounds per day, but said he didn’t know it was polluting the air or even where the toxic gas was going.

“It seems like a rather cavalier attitude these people have, like, we’re sorry about your problem, but we’re making all this money,” stated Stephen Brittle with Don’t Waste Arizona. “But we have environmental laws to protect people from those kind of people.”

In September 2019, a federal lawsuit was filed by prisoner Mary Stinson after she lost ...

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 at the Kern Valley State Prison in July 2010 when he was shot with a non-lethal “sponge round,” pepper sprayed and assaulted by guards. Specifically, he claimed that during an altercation involving other prisoners, he was shot in the leg close to his knee, then pepper sprayed by two guards; he was then handcuffed and forced to walk, and the guards “repeatedly forced him into obstacles such as door frames and walls, breaking his glasses and injuring his face.” He was made to sit on hot pavement while medical treatment and decontamination from the pepper spray were delayed for 27 minutes.

Gilmore filed suit pro se in federal court against four guards involved in the incident: Chad Lockard, Cesar Lopez, John High­tower and J.J. Torres. His complaint raised claims of excessive use of force and delayed medical attention.

Gilmore consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge on June 29, ...

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 an appeal by prisoner Carl D. Gordon, after the district court granted summary judgment to Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) Health Services Director Fred Schilling and Chief Physician Mark Amonette. The court’s order was based on a finding that they had no personal involvement in decisions related to Gordon’s HCV treatment, and that his disease was adequately handled by prison medical staff.

At issue was the VDOC’s 2004 Treatment Guidelines, which excluded HCV-positive prisoners from receiving treatment if they were either “parole eligible” or had less “than 24 months remaining to serve after [undergoing] a liver biopsy.” Gordon, who had been in prison since 1980, was eligible for parole; thus, he was only eligible under the guidelines for a “chronic care clinic” that did not allow a “baseline workup, a liver biopsy, and [HCV] treatment.” In other words, medical staff would do nothing more than watch the disease progress.

That ...

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 of the First Step Act, more than 1,100 prisoners have been released under the provisions lessening sentences for crack cocaine. Monae Davis, 44, benefited from the new law: Six years were shaved off his 20-year prison term. That resulted in Davis being released and reunited with his family earlier than expected.

But his freedom might be short-lived. Prosecutors in the Western District of New York, with U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. at the helm, are trying to appeal his release.

In 2009, Davis entered into a plea agreement with the federal government and admitted that he was involved with 50 grams of crack cocaine, resulting in a 20-year sentence. If arrested today, the mandatory minimum for that crime would be five years.

Prosecutors are now saying the judge erred in releasing Davis under the First Step Act, and want him back in jail. They contend that in his plea ...

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. § 1915(g).

South Carolina prisoner Therl Taylor filed three federal civil rights lawsuits against various government officials. His December 14, 2015 complaint alleged that employees of the South Carolina Department of Corrections and the City of Allendale denied him access to the prison’s mailroom services, interfering with his access to the courts. His June 20, 2016 suit claimed that prison staff violated his rights by transferring him to a new unit, and included general allegations of “corruption, drug smuggling, [and] high rates of violence.” His last civil rights action, filed on September 6, 2016, again alleged prison staff had improperly transferred him to another unit and confiscated his personal belongings.

“In a set of three orders issued on the same day, the district court dismissed each complaint for failure to state a claim and so assigned Taylor three ‘strikes’ under § 1915(g),” the Fourth Circuit stated in a consolidated appeal of ...

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 to a federal lawsuit filed by her family. Since then, one of the guards involved has been arrested on unrelated charges and the state has moved to release Weimar in an apparent attempt to avoid paying some of her medical costs.

The lawsuit, filed on September 3, 2019, says Weimar complained of pain from a preexisting hip condition when ordered to clean toilets in her dormitory, and she requested a legally-mandated “reasonable accommodation.” Displeased with her refusal to comply, a guard called three others to enforce his command. The stress of the situation, Weimar said, caused “an adverse psychological episode,” so she declared a “psychological emergency.”

Under prison policy, at that point a medical professional should have been called to assess the situation. Instead, one of the guards reportedly threw Weimar to the ground, then all four piled on and “brutally beat her with blows to the head, neck, and ...

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 armed robbery.

The three strikes law was amended in 2012 so that only a third strike for a serious or violent felony would trigger a life sentence, but Oliver was not eligible for resentencing. Why? While incarcerated he was found in possession of a book titled Blood in My Eye written by George Jackson, co-founder of the Black Guerilla Family, a prison and street gang. Of the 23 years that Oliver served in prison, he spent eight in solitary confinement for possessing that book.

“It’s almost impossible to believe that what happened to Ken happened here in California,” said Edward Johnson, the lead attorney for the pro bono legal team that represented Oliver. “You know, people think of this as an enlightened state and both the sentence and the time in [solitary] don’t square with that.”

Oliver was freed on June 3, 2019 after Los Angeles County prosecutors said they ...

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, 482 U.S. 78 (1987). Although the Turner court lowered the bar for prison officials to defend their policies against constitutional challenges, it also clearly upheld the fundamental right of prisoners to marry, which cannot be unilaterally denied by prison officials.

Niccole Wetherell is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder. Her fiancé, Paul Gillpatrick, is serving 55 to 99 years for second-degree murder in a prison located about 50 miles from Wetherell’s. They met in 1998, prior to their incarcerations, and became engaged in 2012.

After Nebraska thwarted their attempts to marry, they filed a federal civil rights suit seeking to be wed via video conference, and to end the prison system’s policy that prohibits marriage between prisoners except in “special circumstances.”

In June 2019, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Rossiter held that Wetherell and Gillpatrick had a fundamental right to marry. The state has appealed, and the ...

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 a daily serving of halal meat in accordance with his Muslim religious beliefs.

The federal district court held a bench trial and granted an injunction in favor of Muhammad in May 2018. The court ordered prison officials to provide him with one serving of fish three or four days per week and one serving of halal or kosher beef, chicken or turkey the other three to four days a week.

The defendants appealed, arguing that Muhammad failed to exhaust his administrative remedies and that the district court erred on his RLUIPA and Free Exercise claims, as well as the scope of injunctive relief.

In an August 13, 2019 ruling, the Eighth Circuit agreed that Muhammad had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. As a result, the appellate court did not reach the issue of whether the ADC had violated his rights under RLUIPA and the Free Exercise Clause.

The Court ...

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 charged and convicted as a violent criminal if they enter a dwelling that is not theirs. Burglary is deemed a violent crime.

In North Carolina, trafficking a stolen identity and selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a school or playground are both considered violent offenses. A July 2018 analysis by The Marshall Project found that a significant portion of prisoners – 7,532 of approximately 35,700 total – were incarcerated for crimes deemed violent under North Carolina’s habitual violent offender law.

In Minnesota, aiding an attempted suicide and marijuana possession (depending on the quantity) are classified as violent crimes. The July 2018 analysis found that about 3,092 prisoners out of 9,849 in Minnesota’s prison system were locked up for crimes that might not seem violent to an objective observer.

Other “violent” crimes in various jurisdictions include purse snatching, embezzlement, theft of drugs and, in New York, possession of a gun with ...

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 claimed that sometime in the 1990s he developed an inguinal hernia, which ebbed but recurred in 2011. He said the hernia was painful but medical staff consistently refused to listen to his complaints.

A successful surgical intervention was performed in September 2014. For the three years of pain and suffering he was forced to endure prior to the surgery, Wilson sued Wexford, doctors Imhotep Carter and Saleh Obaisi, and physician assistant (PA) LaTanya Williams for being deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs contrary to the Eighth Amendment.

The district court dismissed Dr. Carter due to the statute of limitations prior to discovery. At a pre-trial hearing, the court excluded several hearsay reports and forbade any respondeat superior liability theories. After Wilson’s case went to a jury trial, the defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law. The district court granted their motion and dismissed the case prior to ...

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 headlines after Mill’s probation was violated in November 2017 for popping a wheelie on his dirt bike and being involved in a scuffle at an airport. Judge Brinkley’s imposition of an excessive sentence of two to four years made him a symbol for the need for judicial reform.

Mill grew up in North Philadelphia where he became a local legend as a rapper. In 2007, he was arrested for possessing a firearm, assault on law enforcement and 17 other charges. He said that he left his cousin’s house to go to a store, and was armed for his protection. According to Mill, the police approached him and he immediately placed the gun on the ground and raised his hands. Nonetheless, the officers brutally assaulted him, cuffed him, took him back to his cousin’s house and used his head as a battering ram to open a door, he stated.

Conversely, Graham ...

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 while sex offenders are more likely to be re-arrested for sex crimes than other ex-prisoners, they were less likely to be re-arrested overall.

“The median sentence length among prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 after serving time for rape or sexual assault (60 months) was longer than the median sentence length among all prisoners (36 months) or prisoners released after serving time for assault (36 months),” the report stated. “Twenty-seven percent of prisoners released after serving time for rape or sexual assault were serving a maximum sentence length of 10 years or more, compared to 10% of prisoners released after serving time for assault.”

The report also noted that “[a]n estimated 83% of the 401,288 prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 were arrested for a new crime within 9 years of release.... The percentage of released prisoners arrested within 9 years for any type of crime after serving ...

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 newly established Compassionate Release Clearinghouse. The clearinghouse, a collaborative pro bono effort between FAMM, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), is designed to match qualified prisoners with legal counsel should they need to fight a compassionate release denial or unanswered request in court.

“People who can barely make it out of their beds in the morning should not have to go into court alone against the largest law firm in the nation,” said Kevin Ring, president of FAMM. “Congress was clear that it wanted fundamental changes in compassionate release, yet we’ve seen prosecutors continue to fight requests from clearly deserving people, including individuals with terminal illnesses. It’s gratifying to know we will be able to help people in a tangible and meaningful way.”

The Compassionate Release Clearinghouse recruits, trains and provides resources to participating lawyers. The Clearinghouse’s ...

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 a beard up to three inches long.

The ruling came after a bench trial in a civil rights action filed by state prisoner Lester James Smith, whom the court found had a “severe belief in the tenets of Islam, including the tenet that he not trim his beard and, if he must trim it, to maintain at least a fistful of beard hair.” His complaint alleged the GDOC denied his request for a religious accommodation because its policy prohibited prisoners from growing a beard longer than one-half inch for any reason. That policy was implemented following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Holt v. Hobbs, 135 S.Ct. 853 (2015) [PLN, Aug. 2015, p.50].

After a bench trial, the district court entered judgment on August 7, 2019. It found that the GDOC’s grooming policy was under-inclusive, as it prohibited a type of activity to further the prison system’s interests ...

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 Facility (ACDF) as a pretrial detainee in August 2014.

During the first part of December 2014, Lillis became ill and submitted a written request for medical care. His condition worsened so quickly that he presented himself to the nurse who was dispensing medications in the cellblock the next morning. Seeing his condition, the nurse ordered his transfer to the medical unit for observation. Lillis had a temperature of 102.9; he was coughing, congested, had a sore throat and said he ached all over his body. He received Tylenol, Mucinex and antihistamines. By evening, his temperature had dropped to 102.5 but he was experiencing nausea and diarrhea – symptoms of bacterial pneumonia.

Lillis’ medical records indicated that he also had hepatitis C, a complicating medical condition, yet none of the nurses observing him called a doctor for consultation. Instead, he was given Ibuprofen and Gatorade.

The next day he was coughing ...

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 for 19 years, speaking at conferences, writing grant proposals, maintaining the website and keeping the books. She will soon be stepping down.

Anthony Tyson, the group’s chairman, said in a recent letter: “There are no rich people on death row. If you fit the bill they’re looking for and you are broke, then you receive the death penalty.”

Tyson and other prisoners on death row at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility comprise Project Hope. The non-profit organization’s mission is “to work together with friends and other supporters to educate the public and to bring about the abolition of the death penalty in Alabama.”

Tyson teaches a law class, referred to as an “enlightenment group,” that provides information on how to navigate the state and federal appellate processes to a number of death row prisoners. Over the past 11 years, two of Tyson’s students, Montez Spradley and William Ziegler, have ...

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 only eight weeks old.

Because the warrant originated in another county, local cops never bothered to check its veracity or facts. The address the officers had on the warrant was not the same as Foster’s. She was held in jail incommunicado for five days, never even being told why she was arrested or the charges against her.

In the meantime, Ohio Family Services (OFS) had taken her children. Adding to her troubles, Foster was fired from her job while incarcerated.

Upon her arrival in Brown County, the warrant’s issuing jurisdiction, she was finally interviewed by an officer. It did not take long to determine she had been falsely arrested, as she was not the same person named in the warrant.

Released without so much as an apology, it was up to Foster to undo the catastrophic damage to her life that the incident had caused. Despite the fact of Foster’s ...

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 that former Philadelphia detective James Pitts coerced a witness, Corey Ford, and codefendant Lamont Dade to testify against him.

Pitts had since been accused in other cases of coercing witnesses, and his credibility was affected. The jury quickly found Bennett not guilty on May 6, 2019.

Bennett was accused of organizing the murder of 19-year-old English on September 22, 2006. The prosecution alleged that he enlisted then-16-year-old Dade into helping him get revenge for losing $20 in a dice game – that they ambushed English and Ford in a parking lot in West Philadelphia, and Dade shot English multiple times, killing him, while Bennett shot Ford in the legs and buttocks.

Bennett’s first trial ended in a mistrial in 2008, due to jury tampering; his second that same year resulted in a conviction and life sentence. Bennett appealed based on ineffective assistance of counsel. He went on to represent himself ...

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 people on probation or parole in the U.S., nearly double the number in jails and prisons. Every year almost 350,000 people are locked up because they violated the terms of their community supervision. In Georgia, 67 percent of new prison intakes in 2015 were due to supervision violations; in Rhode Island, it was 64 percent in 2016.

But parole and probation supervision wasn’t supposed to be this way, argues Vincent Schiraldi, a former New York City probation commissioner who is now co-director of Columbia University’s Justice Lab. As incarceration rates increased, supervision became stricter – it changed from an act of mercy to a different form of punishment, he noted.

In October 2018, Schiraldi told a New York Assembly Committee that there’s no public safety justification to test people on supervision for marijuana use. Research showed that drug testing increased the chance of jail time for violations, but did not ...

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 civil rights action filed by Richard Reynolds, who had spent the last 23 years in solitary. “Reynolds committed a heinous crime – he murdered a law enforcement officer,” the court wrote. It noted that he was sentenced to death and awaited execution for over two decades.

When Connecticut retroactively abolished the death penalty, Reynolds was resentenced in 2017 to life without the possibility of parole. Section 18-10b of the Connecticut General Statutes decrees that prisoners such as Reynolds would be classified as a “special circumstances high security” prisoner. Such prisoners are only allowed out of their cell for 15-minute periods to eat lunch and dinner and to take a shower. They receive two hours of outdoor recreation six days a week, plus two hours of weekly indoor recreation. Contact visits are prohibited and no interaction other than with clergy, staff and other special circumstances prisoners is allowed.

The district court ...

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 to protests in 2018 and early 2019.

The Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) has its self-funded industry program, Correctional Industries (CI), prepare three meals a day for state prisoners at a central facility. The food is transported, already portioned out in trays, and then reheated on site at the various prisons statewide. In recent years, CI stopped serving hot breakfasts and began giving prisoners cold, bagged breakfasts during their evening meal to be eaten the next morning.

The introduction of the bagged breakfast meals, known as “breakfast boats,” is believed to have been the cause of food strikes by over half the prisoners at WSP in April 2018 and nearly the entire population at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC) in February 2019. [See: PLN, Jan. 2019, p.50]. Since the protests, hot breakfasts have been reintroduced at WSP while hard-boiled eggs were added to morning meals at CRCC, in ...

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 (FCCC), a for-profit facility initially run by the GEO Group that houses involuntarily committed sex offenders. For many years he published a monthly newsletter titled Duck Soup, which he envisioned as “the uncensored pulse of the compound.” It was dedicated to exposing “corruption at FCCC.”

His publication “frequently excoriated FCCC’s staff, sex offender treatment program, and conditions of confinement.” He called GEO a “criminal organization that has a chronic history of cover-ups, medical neglect, and psychological abuse,” and in one issue referred to FCCC residents as “coward[s]” for failing to hold “collective protests” and “demonstrations.”

According to FCCC director Timothy Budz, Duck Soup “became increasingly inflammatory” after a 2009 policy was implemented that required residents to supply their own paper to print copies of the newsletter. Afraid the publication would cause violence at the facility, Budz banned distribution or possession of Duck Soup in November 2010.

A change of ...

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 2017, p.36].

The investigation attempted to determine the extent to which federal prosecutors obtained and used video and audio recordings of privileged meetings and phone calls between prisoners and their lawyers at a private prison operated by CoreCivic in Leavenworth. The U.S. Attorney’s Office was ordered to pay the costs associated with delays in the case.

This is the latest scandal to hit the Kansas U.S. Attorney’s Office, which has been previously accused of routine prosecutorial misconduct and internal dysfunction. One prisoner has already been released due to the breach of attorney-client privilege, and about 110 similar petitions from federal defendants are pending.

The prosecutors’ use of the recordings was revealed in 2016 during a court hearing associated with an investigation into drug trafficking at the CoreCivic-run prison. That is when former Assistant U.S. Attorney Erin Tomasic disclosed she was in possession of surveillance videos from over 100 cameras at ...

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 only copies of request forms – similar to grievances – submitted by a prisoner.

After she was told to shred the documents, the unidentified jailer realized the request forms should have been placed in the prisoner’s file.

The jailer took some sheets of paper out of the copier and shredded them instead. Then she turned the request forms over to Burson, who was investigating the jail following an unrelated prisoner-on-prisoner stabbing incident.

Burson interviewed the jailer on March 17, 2019. She said Captain Hammer told her “these are just a crazy man talking,” and the Texas Commission on Jail Standards would not like the prisoner’s comments in the request forms.

The next day, Burson interviewed Hammer. She told him she was only shredding copies of documents because she was getting ready to retire again. Hammer denied shredding or asking anyone to shred anything, and denied shredding any original documents.

In ...

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 were forced to disrobe in front of 40 other women; sometimes they were so close to each other that their bodies touched. Many were forced to stand in oil from buses that regularly idled in the garage. There was blood mixed in with the oil, left by previous female prisoners who were menstruating during the invasive searches.

Guards would curse at the naked prisoners while ridiculing them and making jokes and other degrading comments. Prisoners who were menstruating were ordered to remove their pads and tampons; without being allowed to first wash their hands, guards would order the prisoners to use their fingers to open their mouths so they could be inspected.

Many of the women were exposed to cold outdoor temperatures, and sometimes the searches took place while it was raining. At times, men could observe the group searches. The lawsuit was certified as a class action in November ...

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 August 2018 to address what Dr. Kathryn Burns found to be a “dangerously substandard system” for mental health care. She made nine visits to BCJ in 2016 and 2017 to monitor the facility. [See: PLN, Aug. 2019, p.28]

Part of the move to upgrade care at the jail was switching private medical contractors. Armor Correctional Health Services had provided medical and mental health treatment at BCJ since 2004, but lost the contract to Correct Care Solutions (now known as Wellpath) in June 2018. Wellpath submitted its litigation history as part of its contract bid, but the Broward County Sheriff’s Office refused to release it pursuant to a public records request, citing an exemption under state law for “trade secrets.”

Unsurprisingly, there has been little change with the new for-profit medical provider.

“Recognizing that ten people have died in jail since 2018 and within a week we see two middle ...

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 to 18 U.S.C. § 3664(n), after learning of the deposit into Lillard’s account while he was in pretrial detention on a 2016 charge. The seizure was to be credited toward a restitution order in an earlier conviction that occurred in 1998.

Lillard argued that he intended to use the money to pay for legal help and phone calls to his family and friends, to help his 90-year-old father and 81-year-old mother, and to buy commissary items such as hygiene products.

The 1998 restitution order did not include a payment schedule, even though it found at the time that Lillard “[had] no income or assets or the likelihood of either in the immediate future.” The government’s argument was “that § 3664(n) applied ‘squarely’ to Lillard because he was in ‘federal custody’ while in pretrial detention,” which made the funds in his prison trust account subject to seizure under the statute.

The ...

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 Haughton, 46, a legal green-card holder from Jamaica who has lived in Maryland for nearly a decade, was arrested at the Baltimore/Washington International Airport on December 29, 2018 after his annual visit back home. U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained him after a drug-dog sniff alerted to possible drugs in his bag. Agents found bottles labeled “honey,” a field test falsely indicated it was meth and he was arrested.

Nineteen days later, the Maryland State Police lab confirmed what the label on the bottles stated: It was honey. Yet prosecutors didn’t drop the three felony drug charges for another sixdays.

Haughton then faced just a remaining misdemeanor charge, which wouldn’t have kept him in jail. He could have been released on his own recognizance.

Yet he remained in custody because the felony charges triggered an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer, which meant he would be deported if he had ...

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 Grand Lodge Fraternal Order of Police’s 64th National Biennial Conference in New Orleans. He commended police officers for their “special kind of bravery” in “fighting an unrelenting, never-ending fight against criminal predators in our society.”

Barr said progressive district attorneys who style themselves as “social justice” reformers – such as Larry Krasner in Philadelphia and Rachael Rollins in Boston – are “undercutting police, letting criminals off the hook, and refusing to enforce the law.” Jurisdictions with such prosecutors, he said, “are headed back to the days of revolving door justice.” That, he added, is a “development that is demoralizing to police and dangerous to public safety.”

Tough-on-crime policies that began during the Reagan administration caused a “steady and sharp drop in violent crime in 1992,” but crime rates started to rise during the Obama administration, Barr claimed. He called for a “full court press” against crime and criminals.

“Barr’s speech ...

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 monitor Maximum Custody Performance Measures (MCPMs), which mandate a minimum amount of out-of-cell time for prisoners held in maximum-security units pursuant to a court-enforced Stipulation. Prison officials argued the Stipulation provided that after 24 months of monitoring, their duty to monitor would end if they were in compliance for 18 of those months.

However, the district court found the ADOC’s monitoring methods failed to satisfy the Stipulation. For example, the ADOC’s documentation showed that prisoners often refused their out-of-cell exercise time, and prison officials argued they only had a duty to offer the required amount of time, not to ensure that prisoners used it. But the prisoners presented evidence that the reasons they had “refused” out-of-cell time included:

• staff members asking prisoners if they wanted exercise while the prisoners were asleep and could not hear them;

• staff members whispering the offer and then documenting it as a refusal ...

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 KGUN 9, Maxwell went for Hubert, who punched him; Maxwell then fell to the floor, hitting his head. Tucson Fire Department crews were dispatched to the jail and CPR was administered without success. Maxwell was pronounced dead. Hubert had worked for the Pima County Sheriff’s Office since 2007. Maxwell was awaiting a court hearing after rejecting a plea deal for the alleged shooting of his ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend and her daughter’s boyfriend on New Year’s Eve 2017.

Australia: Nurses at the 945-bed Fulham Correctional Centre had been in negotiations with private prison operator GEO Group Australia since October 2017. They wanted a 12.5 percent pay raise over four years, plus a $1,500 signing bonus in lieu of a 2018 pay raise and leave policies similar to other nurses in Victoria. GEO initially offered a 2.1 percent raise per year with no improvements in working conditions. By February 2019, the company ...