Skip navigation
Prisoner Education Guide

Prison Legal News: February, 2019

View as PDF
Issue PDF
Volume 30, Number 2

In this issue:

  1. Former Prisoners Become Attorneys: From Breaking the Law to Practicing Law (p 1)
  2. From the Editor (p 12)
  3. Seventh Circuit: District Court Abused Discretion in Not Seeking Counsel for Pro Se Prisoner (p 12)
  4. HRDC Files Suit Against Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority (p 14)
  5. Preliminary Settlement in Class-Action HCV Suit Against Pennsylvania DOC (p 16)
  6. Sixth Circuit Upholds Denial of Interviews with Lucasville Prison Riot Participants (p 18)
  7. Drafting Error in First Step Act Delays Application of Good Behavior Credits (p 18)
  8. Nevada Prisons Persist in Not Serving Healthy Food (p 20)
  9. Obituary: Rick Anderson, 1941-2018 (p 20)
  10. Imprisoning America’s Mentally Ill (p 22)
  11. City of Philadelphia Sinks $5.6 Million into Prison Software Upgrade it Can’t Use (p 24)
  12. DC Corrections Council Report Slams USP Lewisburg’s “Special Management Unit” (p 26)
  13. Florida Prisoners Get Tablets, Lose $11.3 Million in Digital Music (p 26)
  14. Ohio Prisoner Recovers $2,025 for Leg Injury Caused by Guard’s Pepper Ball (p 28)
  15. PREA Audit at Montana Women’s Prison Amid Sexual Misconduct Complaints (p 28)
  16. High Risk, Low Pay for California Prisoners Who Fight Fires (p 30)
  17. Alaska Supreme Court Denies Counsel to State Prisoner in Felony Case (p 31)
  18. Connecticut DOC Settles Cancer Misdiagnosis Lawsuit for $1.3 Million (p 32)
  19. $1.6 Million Settlement for Missouri Prison Guard Subjected to Sexual Harassment (p 33)
  20. Eighth Circuit: Severe Pain Caused by Actual Injury Satisfies PLRA Physical Injury Requirement (p 34)
  21. New York City Pays $280,000 to Settle Suit after Visitor Assaulted by Jail Guards (p 34)
  22. Life-Sentenced Missouri Prisoner Has No Right to Release Date (p 35)
  23. What the Government Shutdown Looks Like Inside Federal Prisons (p 36)
  24. New Trial on Causation Required in Illinois Jail Detainee’s Suicide (p 38)
  25. Arkansas Prisoner Prevails on Grievance Exhaustion Issue (p 38)
  26. Florida DOC Agrees to Reform Prisoner Mental Health Care (p 39)
  27. Virginia Jail’s Video Calling System Replaces In-Person Visits (p 40)
  28. California: $1 Million Settlement in Suit Over Mentally Ill Jail Prisoner’s Suicide (p 40)
  29. Virginia Jail Officials Indicted on Civil Rights Violations (p 41)
  30. Challenges, Secrecy Continue to Surround Use of Lethal Injection Drugs (p 42)
  31. Seventh Circuit Reverses $6.7 Million Indemnification Award for Milwaukee Jail Rape (p 43)
  32. Illinois DOC Settles Lawsuit Filed by Deaf, Hard of Hearing Prisoners (p 44)
  33. Texas Prison Air Conditioning Costs Much Lower than Expected (p 45)
  34. Under Pressure, Some Politicians Return Private Prison Campaign Cash (p 46)
  35. Three Wrongfully Convicted Ohio Prisoners Receive $19.5 Million (p 48)
  36. All Seven Arkansas Supreme Court Justices Face Ethics Charges (p 49)
  37. Illinois Calculates the High Costs of Recidivism (p 50)
  38. Texas Prison System Cuts Phone Rates Over 75 Percent; Rates Drop in Other States, Too (p 50)
  39. Hawaii Prison Guards’ Union Fights Policy of Denying Promotions (p 52)
  40. Protesters Rally Against Private Prison Contractor GEO Group (p 52)
  41. Seventh Circuit Denies Wisconsin Prisoner’s Claims Against Medical Staff (p 53)
  42. Oklahoma is Number One ... in Incarceration Rates (p 54)
  43. $10 Million Award for Wrongly Jailed Philadelphia Man (p 54)
  44. $1 Million Settlement in Lawsuit Over Texas Jail Prisoner’s Death (p 55)
  45. Florida Prisoner’s Gender Dysphoria Requires Hormone Therapy, 
Social Transitioning Treatment (p 56)
  46. Report Outlines Eight Ways to Shorten Excessive Prison Sentences (p 56)
  47. Federal Judge Orders Prison Doctor to Face Deliberate Indifference Claims (p 57)
  48. Mississippi: More Indictments from Former DOC Commissioner Epps Corruption Scandal (p 58)
  49. Tennessee: Class-Action Suit Against Private 
Prison Over Diabetic Care Can Proceed (p 58)
  50. Baby Dies Days After Prisoner Gives Birth in Isolation Cell at Texas Jail (p 59)
  51. Print Media and Prisoner Activism (p 60)
  52. Taser Misuse at California Jail Costs County $1.15 Million (p 60)
  53. One in 55 Adults on Probation or Parole, Study Finds (p 61)
  54. Ninth Circuit Grants Habeas Relief for Ineffective Assistance of Resentencing Counsel (p 62)
  55. News in Brief (p 62)

Former Prisoners Become Attorneys: From Breaking the Law to Practicing Law

by Christopher Zoukis

“A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client,” the old adage goes. But Isaac Wright, Jr. knew he was innocent, so he represented himself at his 1991 trial on charges under New Jersey’s “drug kingpin” law. Unsurprisingly, he was convicted and sentenced to life for running one of New York City’s largest narcotics distribution networks.

Wright began teaching himself the law after he arrived in prison. When he appealed his conviction he represented himself again, this time winning a reversal of the kingpin charge. Yet he remained incarcerated on other convictions until 1996, when he was again in court and again served as his own attorney. Under Wright’s cross-examination, veteran police detective James Dugan confessed to his role in a scheme to frame Wright that was coordinated by Somerset County prosecutor Nicholas L. Bissell, Jr.

Dugan later pleaded guilty to official misconduct, while Wright’s trial judge, Michael Imbriani, went to prison on theft charges and Bissell killed himself when U.S. Marshals kicked in the door of a Nevada hotel room where he’d fled. [See: PLN, Jan. 1997, p.15; Oct. 1996, p.23].

After spending over seven years in a ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

We have long reported on the phenomenon of jailhouse lawyers and other prisoners who, upon release, have gone to law school and become attorneys. While that phenomenon has been occurring for decades, it appears to be picking up – perhaps because there are simply more people going to prison in the first place. It follows that those most impacted by the legal system in general, and the criminal justice system in particular, may have insights and experiences that make them better advocates.

Over the past 30 years the nation’s prison and jail population has more than doubled, and with that increased population has come the steady worsening of conditions. Besides the denial of adequate medical and mental health care which results in the deaths of thousands of prisoners each year through neglect and incompetence, there has been the wholesale elimination of academic programs ranging from basic literacy to higher education. If anything, the penal system is an obstacle for prisoners who wish to educate themselves and become professionally employed following their release.

My observation over the years has been that while prison officials occasionally pay token lip service to rehabilitation and reducing recidivism rates, they have a ...

Seventh Circuit: District Court Abused Discretion in Not Seeking Counsel for Pro Se Prisoner

by Dale Chappell

In a case where a prisoner filed a civil rights claim against prison doctors but failed to follow proper legal procedures, the district court abused its discretion when it refused to seek counsel to represent the prisoner, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held when reversing summary judgment in favor of the doctors.

Thomas James contracted an infection in his foot while in an Indiana prison in 2007. Due to his lame foot, he fell and broke his jaw. The prison referred him to two specialists, one for his foot and the other for his jaw. The specialist who examined his jaw said that due to the delay in treatment for his injury, nothing could be done.

After James was transferred to a facility in Arizona, he filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming the Indiana prison doctors were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. He asked the district court to appoint counsel to assist him with his “complex” medical claims, which would require “substantial investigation and discovery”; further, being held at a prison in Arizona would “greatly limit” his ability to properly litigate the case in Indiana ...

HRDC Files Suit Against Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority

by Steve Horn

The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), which publishes Prison Legal News, has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority for censoring publications, books and other materials sent to prisoners.

The case, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia on March 28, 2018, centers around the jail’s 18-month refusal “to deliver hundreds of HRDC’s mailings to incarcerated persons, directly violating HRDC’s First Amendment right to free speech and communication.”

Since September 2016, the complaint contends, the Regional Jail Authority returned over 222 issues of PLN plus books, annual reports, letters and other materials published by HRDC, labeling them “NOT ALLOWED,” “REFUSED” and “UNAUTHORIZED” correspondence. HRDC has also raised a Fourteenth Amendment due process claim because in most cases no notice was given of the censorship. The few times that notice was provided, HRDC had only 10 days to appeal – and the notices did not provide the reason for the rejection.

In its complaint, HRDC says the mail policy enforced by the Regional Jail Authority, which operates four facilities that serve 10 jurisdictions in Virginia, is contrary to the public interest.

“When the Jail ...

Preliminary Settlement in Class-Action HCV Suit Against Pennsylvania DOC

by Dale Chappell

A class-action lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) over the lack of adequate treatment for prisoners with hepatitis C (HCV) survived a motion for summary judgment, and the parties have reached a preliminary settlement agreement.

Salvatore Chimenti, Daniel Leyva and David Maldonado filed suit in federal court in 2015 on behalf of themselves and other Pennsylvania state prisoners diagnosed with HCV, alleging the DOC violated their federal and state constitutional rights by denying them proper care. The DOC moved for summary judgment but the district court largely denied their motion, finding most of the claims were sufficient to go to trial.

The prisoners argued that the DOC’s refusal to treat their HCV with the current “standard of medical care” by using direct-acting antiviral drugs (DAAs), such as Harvoni or Sovaldi, constituted deliberate indifference because the denial of treatment was an effort to save money and not based on medical considerations. The plaintiffs offered evidence where the DOC had acknowledged it would cost about $70 million to treat every prisoner with HCV, and that prison officials took steps to avoid treating HCV-positive prisoners by prioritizing treatment based on the severity of their illness.

They pointed to ...

Sixth Circuit Upholds Denial of Interviews with Lucasville Prison Riot Participants

by Derek Gilna

The April 1993 riot at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville resulted in the deaths of one guard and nine prisoners. Journalists have long tried to interview some of the prisoners involved in that uprising, including Siddique Abdullah Hasan and Keith LaMar – both now on death row – but the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) denied their requests.

The prisoners and journalists filed suit; the district court held some of their claims were moot and denied other claims, and dismissed the case. That dismissal was affirmed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on September 26, 2018.

As noted by the appellate court, “plaintiffs in this case are prisoners who participated in the 1993 Lucasville prison riot and journalists who unsuccessfully sought in-person, recorded interviews with these prisoners, ... [who] brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the prison’s interview policies violated their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.” [See: PLN, July 2018, p.44].

The district court granted partial summary judgment to the ODRC, affirming the ban on interview requests for prisoners held in Restrictive Housing units, but denied summary judgment for those housed in general population ...

Drafting Error in First Step Act Delays Application of Good Behavior Credits

by Steve Horn

The newswire service Reuters has reported that, due to a drafting error in the First Step Act, the increased good behavior credits included in the bill will not be applied until at least July 2019 or until the error is fixed. The First Step Act – landmark legislation which many see as a positive, albeit limited, effort towards federal prison reform – was signed into law by President Trump on December 21, 2018. [See: PLN, Jan. 2019, p.34].

Compounding the issue is the recently ended partial federal government shutdown; thus, it remains unclear when the problem will be addressed. [See article on p.36].

“Potentially thousands of inmates could be affected by the error in the First Step Act,” explained Reuters. “The law required the Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons (BOP), among other measures, to retroactively recalculate good behavior credits, a step that had been expected to reduce some inmates’ sentences by as many as 54 days per year. Previously, inmates could only earn up to 47 days per year toward early release for good behavior.”

The existence of the drafting error first came to light via a letter sent to federal prisoners by ...

Nevada Prisons Persist in Not Serving Healthy Food

by Ed Lyon

Previously, Nevada state prisoner Robert Leslie Stockmeier won a case against the prison system over claims involving dietary issues in Stockmeier v. Green, 340 P.3d 583 (Nev. 2014).

The Nevada Supreme Court found the state’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) and staff were not examining actual meals for nutritional purposes; that a dietician’s review of the prison menu without examining the meals was “too vague to support any analysis of nutritional adequacy”; there were no standards as to what determined “nutritional adequacy” or how it was being met beyond merely avoiding malnourishment; there was no review of what foods were actually being served; and there were no reviews of medically-prescribed and religious diets, or whether prisoners’ age, gender or activity levels were taken into account.

At that time, the Court held Stockmeier was entitled to the grant of a writ of mandamus to compel the CMO to periodically examine and report semi-annually to the Board of State Prison Commissioners Board regarding the nutritional adequacy of prison meals.

Specifically, the Supreme Court pointed out that NRS 209.382(1) requires that each prisoner receive a “healthful diet.” Section (1)(b) requires the CMO to “periodically examine” and ...

Obituary: Rick Anderson, 1941-2018

by Paul Wright

On Christmas Eve 2018, PLN contributing writer Rick Anderson died of congestive heart failure at his daughter’s home. Rick was a long-time journalist. He grew up in Hoquiam, Washington and went to work as a copy boy at the Post-Intelligencer in Seattle. That started his career in journalism; he would go on to write for The Seattle Times, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Weekly and many other publications, including, yes, Prison Legal News.

Rick was a prolific reporter who wrote thousands of articles and several books over the course of nearly five decades. His stock in trade became stories about poor people, the underclass and underdogs, often involving crime and the police. Rick’s death was greeted with sadness by the many journalists and writers who knew him over the years. The Seattle Times and Crosscut both published eloquent eulogies for Rick that I won’t repeat here.

Many readers have read Rick’s articles in PLN over the years. Whenever we had a complex story involving tens of thousands of pages of documents and complex narratives, I immediately thought “This is a story for Rick.” But more importantly than just writing articles for PLN, if it hadn’t been for ...

Imprisoning America’s Mentally Ill

by Ed Lyon

Since the 1962 publication of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a mirror image of the best-selling novel’s plot has played out in U.S. prisons. Author Ken Kasey wrote a work of fiction about a prisoner who was sent to a mental hospital. In fact, mentally ill Americans are often denied the treatment they need and instead end up in prisons and jails. It happens so often that correctional facilities have become the de facto source for mental health services.

From the 1960s to the present the U.S. incarceration rate more than tripled, and around 2.2 million people are currently incarcerated nationwide. During that same period of time, the population of institutionalized mental patients shrank by 90 percent to under 60,000. Alisa Roth, author of Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness, estimates that half of U.S. prisoners suffer from a mental illness, since the lack of other treatment options means they are more likely to end up behind bars.

“It’s unpleasant, it’s loud, it’s claustrophobic,” she said of units that house mentally ill prisoners.

As a result, large urban jail systems in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City are ...

City of Philadelphia Sinks $5.6 Million into Prison Software Upgrade it Can’t Use

by Kevin W. Bliss

The Philadelphia Department of Prisons (PDP) has terminated a contract it established in 2014 with an information technology company, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), to design a new Integrated Jail Management System (IJMS).

After investing $5.6 million of the $7.2 million contract total, PDP decided the software would not serve the necessary functions. Additionally, the city’s Information and Technology Officer, Mark Wheeler, who took office in January 2018, discovered that annual licensing fees for the program would exceed $1 million.

PDP, which has an annual budget of $259 million, has used a system called Lock and Track since 1995 to manage its 5,200 prisoners and 2,300 employees. The system was created by Rick Evans, who ran the company, Lockworks, out of his ranch in Colorado where he also trained horses and gave riding lessons. He was the lone support tech for the entire system.

“If this guy, Rick, gets butted by a goat, they’re done,” said one person familiar with the Lock and Track system, who called PDP’s reliance on the expertise of just one person like Evans “a recipe for disaster.”

PDP first contracted with SAIC to develop a ...

DC Corrections Council Report Slams USP Lewisburg’s “Special Management Unit”

by Derek Gilna

An April 6, 2018 report published by the District of Columbia’s Corrections Information Council (CIC) criticized the federal Bureau of Prisons’ Special Management Unit (SMU) at USP Lewisburg in Pennsylvania, citing numerous policy violations and violence. One incident involved a prisoner who lost an eye to a pepper ball fired by a guard.

Although the District of Columbia maintains a detention center, it routinely sends convicted prisoners to BOP prisons around the country. The Corrections Information Council was granted authority as an independent oversight agency to inspect and report on facilities where D.C. prisoners are held.

The SMU at USP Lewisburg, which is used to house prisoners in extremely restrictive conditions, had previously been criticized for failure to abide by BOP program statements regarding the treatment of prisoners. As noted in the CIC report, although “the length of the SMU program [went] from 18 to 24 months to 9 to 13 months, there have not been significant changes to the conditions of confinement for SMU inmates, such as use of and injuries from restraints, no access to emergency call buttons, lack of programming, and lack of access to mental health services.”

The report also noted ...

Florida Prisoners Get Tablets, Lose $11.3 Million in Digital Music

by David M. Reutter

In 2011, the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) entered into a contract with Access Corrections that allowed prisoners to purchase MP3 players which could be hooked up to a kiosk for music downloads. Over the six-year life of the contract, prisoners bought 30,299 players at around $100 apiece plus 6.7 million songs for $1.70 each, for a total of about $14.4 million – an amount that netted the FDOC $1.7 million in kickbacks from Access.

In August 2017, sales of the MP3 players were halted after prison officials reached an agreement with JPay, owned by prison telecom provider Securus, to sell tablets to Florida prisoners. But since FDOC policy allows prisoners to possess only one electronic device, a directive was issued that would make the MP3 players contraband.

As part of its contract with both vendors, the FDOC forced prisoners to swap their MP3 players for a JPay tablet by January 23, 2019. The players turned over to prison officials were slated for disposal unless prisoners paid to have the devices returned to Access Corrections, which agreed (for a $25 fee) to have security features unlocked and the music downloaded to ...

Ohio Prisoner Recovers $2,025 for Leg Injury Caused by Guard’s Pepper Ball

by Derek Gilna

Ohio state prisoner Kimani Ware won a $2,025 judgment against the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) on July 16, 2018. Following a trial, Magistrate Gary Peterson found the DRC was responsible for the injury and pain Ware suffering when he was struck in the ...

PREA Audit at Montana Women’s Prison Amid Sexual Misconduct Complaints

by Matt Clarke

A June 2017 audit at the Montana Women’s Prison (MWP) found the facility was not in full compliance with 20 of 43 standards promulgated under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), enacted in 2003. [See: PLN, Nov. 2017, p.1; Sept. 2013, p.1].

The prison, which has a design capacity of 206 prisoners, held 212 women as of February 2018.

According to the lead auditor, Jillian Shane, findings of noncompliance are common in PREA audits. She also said prison officials have 180 days to achieve compliance with any standard found lacking. A re-audit in October 2017 indicated that MWP met all – but exceeded none – of the 43 PREA standards.

The audit took place against a backdrop of allegations of sexual harassment and abuse of prisoners by staff at MWP. Conducted while Joan Daly-Shinners was warden, the initial audit faulted the facility for inadequate or nonexistent PREA training for staff and prisoners; failing to have a full-time PREA coordinator; blind spots in the prison’s video surveillance system; failing to timely screen newly-arrived prisoners for risk of abusiveness or victimization; and failure to protect people who reported sexual abuse from retaliation.

One particularly important deficiency was ...

High Risk, Low Pay for California Prisoners Who Fight Fires

by Chad Marks

Since the 1940s, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has maintained a firefighting corps composed of prisoner volunteers. In late 2018, when the Camp and Woolsey fires destroyed the town of Paradise and hundreds of homes in upscale Malibu, over 1,400 prisoners contributed 15 percent of the firefighting manpower to California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE).

Since 1983, at least six prisoner firefighters have died in the Conservation Camp Program (CCP), including three between 2016 and 2017, when over 16,000 wildfires burned nearly two million acres across the state. Two prisoners were crushed, Shawna Lynn Jones by a falling boulder and Matthew Beck by a 120-foot tree. Jones, 22, was just months away from completing her sentence. Another CCP volunteer, Frank Anaya, sustained a fatal cut to his femoral artery in a chainsaw accident. [See: PLN, April 2017, p.46; June 2004, p.22; Mar. 2001, p.14].

Though no firefighters died battling the two big blazes in 2018, CAL FIRE’s “Green Sheet” report for the second week of November that year listed five firefighters who were treated and released from a burn center on the first day of the ...

Alaska Supreme Court Denies Counsel to State Prisoner in Felony Case

by Derek Gilna

In a decision that appears to contradict U.S. Supreme Court precedent, not to mention its own, the Supreme Court of Alaska ruled on September 14, 2018 that a prisoner charged with violation of a prison disciplinary rule that constitutes a felony was not entitled to counsel, at least under the facts in this case.

According to the Court’s opinion, state prisoner David Simmons “was charged with an infraction in a prison disciplinary hearing for refusing to provide [a DNA] sample and found guilty.”

He appealed that guilty finding to the superior court, which affirmed; he then appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, which termed the failure to appoint counsel a “secondary issue.” Nonetheless, the Court devoted the majority of its decision to the unusual denial of legal representation.

“We have explained that the right to counsel under the Alaska Constitution for inmates charged with major disciplinary proceedings constituting a felony stems from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Miranda v. Arizona and Mathis v. United States,” the Court wrote. “In Miranda, the Court held that persons facing custodial interrogation must be informed of their right to remain silent and, if indigent, must ...

Connecticut DOC Settles Cancer Misdiagnosis Lawsuit for $1.3 Million

by Dale Chappell

After misdiagnosing a prisoner’s skin cancer as psoriasis for years and refusing to perform tests when treatment was not working, the Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC) agreed to pay $1.3 million to settle the prisoner’s lawsuit.

While held at the Osborn Correctional Institution, state prisoner Wayne World sought medical treatment in 2013 for multiple skin lesions all over his body. Improperly diagnosed as psoriasis, medical staff kept increasing his medications as the lesions kept getting worse, but refused to order more tests or allow World to see a specialist. Finally, in 2015, following numerous requests from both World and his mother, a biopsy was approved and World was diagnosed with lymphoma, a form of cancer. Further testing revealed the cancer had spread to his organs, including his liver.

World filed suit in federal court in March 2016, claiming the DOC’s delay in proper treatment and misdiagnosis of his cancer violated his constitutional rights. In his complaint, World wrote that “he is now diagnos[ed] with cancer, as a result of delay, and could [possibly have] lost the window of opportunity in which medically necessary and meaningful treatment could have been afforded ... to prevent and/or delay ...

$1.6 Million Settlement for Missouri Prison Guard Subjected to Sexual Harassment

The Missouri Department of Corrections (MDOC) has agreed to a $1.6 million settlement in a lawsuit brought by a female guard who alleged she was subjected to sexual harassment at the Kansas City Reentry Center (KCRC).

Tina Gallego was transferred to work at KCRC in September 2015. While there ...

Eighth Circuit: Severe Pain Caused by Actual Injury Satisfies PLRA Physical Injury Requirement

by Matt Clarke

On August 7, 2018, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held the physical injury requirement of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e), does not require a prisoner to show that deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs caused his injury in order to recover monetary damages for the pain he suffered due to that indifference.

Daaron McAdoo was incarcerated at the Hot Springs County Detention Center in Arkansas when he was involved in a fight with another prisoner. After McAdoo refused to stop fighting when ordered to do so, guard Ben Cash grabbed him by the waist, took him to the floor and placed a knee on his back.

McAdoo immediately began complaining of shoulder pain. Jail Sgt. Amy Martin authorized his transport to a hospital about three hours later. An emergency room physician diagnosed a dislocated shoulder and prescribed hydrocodone tablets to be taken every four hours for pain, plus a shoulder splint. McAdoo was returned to the jail; because the facility prohibited the use of narcotics, he did not receive hydrocodone but instead was offered non-prescription pain relievers.

During a follow-up examination at the hospital two days later ...

New York City Pays $280,000 to Settle Suit after Visitor Assaulted by Jail Guards

by Ed Lyon

On May 19, 2014, Thomas Hamm went to the Rikers Island jail complex in New York City to visit his same-sex domestic partner, identified as P.F.

Hamm and P.F., who planned to get married, hugged and kissed at the start of their visit just as ...

Life-Sentenced Missouri Prisoner Has No Right to Release Date

by Ed Lyon

In 1990, Gordon F. Goldsby received consecutive sentences of 10 years, life and 25 years for crimes he committed in Missouri in 1972. After discharging his 10-year sentence, he began serving the life sentence. In 2015 he sought a declaration of his right to be released, relying upon a law passed in 1865, as amended in 1879, called the “three fourths rule” – which, he argued, capped life sentences at 20 years for computation purposes.

That statute also required prisoners to exhibit good behavior while imprisoned. Although the 1879 law was repealed under the state’s 1979 code revisions, Goldsby claimed it still applied to him due to his 1972 offense date. Goldsby had failed to achieve relief in two prior legal actions.

Unsurprisingly, the circuit court denied his petition. Goldsby gave timely notice of appeal and said the docketing fee was being sent from his prison trust account. Because the fee was received late, the appellate court dismissed his appeal. Missouri’s Supreme Court granted a transfer, heard the case and ultimately affirmed the circuit court’s denial on the merits.

Because Missouri’s legislature had repealed appellate docketing fees but left it up to a court’s discretion to impose ...

What the Government Shutdown Looks Like Inside Federal Prisons

Family visits canceled, guards driving for Uber, rising tensions and more. 

by Eli Hager, The Marshall Project

The partial U.S. government shutdown is now in its third week [as of January 7, 2019], due largely to President Trump’s insistence that Congress give him more than $5 billion for a border wall he says will keep criminals from entering the country through Mexico.

Meanwhile, the federal employees tasked with keeping the nation safe from people convicted of crimes – prison guards – are laboring without pay.

Because the federal Bureau of Prisons is operating without funding, it has furloughed up to half of its 36,000-person staff, including many who provide therapeutic programs for prisoners and other services considered not to be “essential.” And the agency is asking its remaining employees to keep working unpaid, focusing on maintaining security even if that’s not usually their primary job.

This could remain the state of affairs until the next pay cycle in late January at the earliest – or even for months or years to come, according to Trump, who threatened to declare a national emergency in order to bypass Congress in the funding dispute.

“It’s an absolute disaster,” ...

New Trial on Causation Required in Illinois Jail Detainee’s Suicide

by David M. Reutter

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held on August 10, 2018 that an Illinois federal district court erred in granting judgment as a matter of law on the issue of causation in the death of Lyvita Gomes while she was incarcerated at the Lake County jail. In doing so, the appellate court set a new standard in the circuit for medical claims involving pretrial detainees.

Gomes, 52, was arrested improperly in the fall of 2011 for failing to report for jury duty; as an Indian national, she was ineligible to serve as a juror. While being arrested, Gomes pulled away from the officer and was charged with resisting arrest. She made statements that landed her on suicide watch, but a few days later was released to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). She was then freed. 

After failing to appear on the resisting arrest charge, Gomes was arrested on December 14, 2011. By the 18th, she was on suicide watch and hunger strike protocol due to her refusal to eat or drink. Her weight dropped from 146 pounds to 128 pounds on December 28. During that time period, “Drs. [Rozel] Elazegui and [Hargurmukh] Singh deliberately chose ...

Arkansas Prisoner Prevails on Grievance Exhaustion Issue

by Ed Lyon

Arkansas state prisoner Jacob J. Townsend was working at the Tucker Unit’s water treatment plant when his supervisor, Terry Murphy, ordered him to work with chlorine gas. Townsend was not given training or equipment for using the dangerous chemical.

Arkansas prisons employ an informal resolution process prior to filing formal grievances. Townsend filed an informal complaint with “one of the prison’s assigned ‘problem solvers,’” Sergeant Jeavon Perry. Perry advised Townsend not to file a formal grievance until after the informal process was complete, even though formal grievances have to be filed within six business days after an informal complaint is submitted.

Townsend’s many requests for law library access to review the grievance policy were ignored. He filed a formal grievance six weeks later, more than five weeks after the six-day period following his informal complaint. As a result, the merits of his grievance were never addressed.

Townsend then filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 suit in federal district court naming Murphy, Richard Romaine, the plant maintenance supervisor, and unit warden David White as defendants. The defendants moved for and were granted summary judgment due to the late filing of the formal grievance and because ...

Florida DOC Agrees to Reform Prisoner Mental Health Care

Disability Rights Florida, the state’s Protection and Advocacy organization for people with disabilities, has reached a settlement agreement with the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) that includes widespread changes to mental health treatment for prisoners.

The agreement was filed in conjunction with the complaint in federal district court in January 2018, and approved the following month. The settlement was the culmination of a multiyear investigation by Disability Rights Florida into the care and treatment of FDOC prisoners with mental health issues. The parties engaged in a year-long series of mediation sessions and reached the agreement with the assistance of federal judge Harvey Schlesinger.

Florida has over 18,000 state prisoners diagnosed with a mental illness that requires treatment. The FDOC operates 10 inpatient mental health units in prisons that treat about 1,200 prisoners whose mental illness significantly impairs their ability to function in a general prison environment.

The complaint alleged the FDOC provided only “cookie-cutter” Individual Service Plans (ISPs) that rarely changed, and treatment typically lacked any meaningful content and had “little to no direct relationship” to the prisoner’s actual mental health condition or ISP. Rather than provide appropriate care, “assignment to an inpatient unit amounts to little more ...

Virginia Jail’s Video Calling System Replaces In-Person Visits

by David Reutter

Visitation is a major aspect of jail and prison operations. For corrections officials, it is wrought with logistical, staffing and security concerns; as a result, they have increasingly turned to video calling, which, in addition to addressing those concerns, can also be profitable.

The Virginia Beach Correctional Center (VBCC) abandoned non-contact in-person visits in 2005 and installed a video calling system. That system required prisoners’ family members and friends to come to the jail to visit via video terminals.

In recent years the video calling system had been known to malfunction for hours or even days at a time, and it finally broke down on March 31, 2018, with 122 video terminals in need of repair. The contractor that had installed it was no longer in business. Using the in-person glass visitation booths to allow visits was rejected as a security risk, said VBCC Chief Deputy of Operations Victoria Thomson.

“What we’ve done to try to get the families to have more contact, or some contact, with their loved ones is we’ve provided free telephone calls,” she added.

However, the free five-minute calls created a “dangerous situation,” according to Virginia Schelleng, whose son was held ...

California: $1 Million Settlement in Suit Over Mentally Ill Jail Prisoner’s Suicide

by Matt Clarke

On December 28, 2017, the family and estate of a mentally ill prisoner who committed suicide while incarcerated at the Yuba County jail in California filed suit in federal court alleging violations of his civil rights. The case settled ten months later for $1 million.

Bertram Hiscock, 34, killed himself in January 2017 on his third suicide attempt since arriving at the jail 77 days earlier. It was the second time he had tried to choke himself to death by swallowing his own feces and urine. 

“I don’t want what happened to my brother to continue to happen to other people,” said Vincent Hiscock, a lecturer in the English Department at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

Although Bertram had graduated as valedictorian from his high school and studied theology and earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of California at Berkeley, he began to suffer from bipolar disorder type 1. The mental illness resulted in hallucinations and caused him to display odd behavior; his condition was largely managed by the drug Abilify. 

“He was being exceptionally careful in wanting to stay well,” Vincent said.

But on November 14, 2016 ...

Virginia Jail Officials Indicted on Civil Rights Violations

A Western District of Virginia federal grand jury indicted two former Rockbridge County Regional Jail (RCRJ) officials on charges related to civil rights violations and falsifying documents to obstruct justice.

The August 14, 2018 indictment, which was initially sealed, included four counts against former RCRJ superintendent John Marshall Higgins, 61, and two counts against former RCRJ head nurse Gary Andrew Hassler, 58.

Three of the counts related to Higgins’ failure to protect pretrial detainees “from [ ] foreseeable injury and violence, resulting in bodily injury.” The first count alleged that Higgins, acting under color of law, deprived a prisoner identified as “R.E.C.” of that right between February 28 and March 3, 2017, while a second count alleged similar conduct between October 28 and December 22, 2016. The third count accused Higgins of such conduct between February 23 and February 28, 2017, resulting in harm to both R.E.C. and another detainee, R.K.

Two of the charges were for knowingly falsifying documentation “with the intent to impede, obstruct, and influence the investigation” of the FBI. The indictment claimed that Hassler “falsified a jail medical log for inmate R.E.C. dated March 5, 2017, by falsely claiming ...

Challenges, Secrecy Continue to Surround Use of Lethal Injection Drugs

by Chad Marks

Through December 31, 2018, there have been 1,490 executions in the U.S. since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977. Almost 90 percent have been carried out by lethal injection, which is considered more humane than hanging, electrocution or the gas chamber. But executions have not gone without problems. Through 2010, it was estimated that seven percent of lethal injections were blundered, causing pain to the prisoner before he died.

Until 2009 most states performed executions using the same three-drug protocol: a barbiturate as an anesthetic, a paralytic to prevent body movement and potassium chloride to induce cardiac arrest. But one by one, every supplier approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has imposed distribution controls on its products to block their use in executions. As a result, states began to experiment with different lethal injection drugs. [See: PLN, June 2017, p.14; July 2016, p.58; Mar. 2014, p.46; Nov. 2012, p.44; June 2011, p.1].

One of those alternative drugs is midazolam. In April 2014, Oklahoma’s Department of Corrections (DOC) attempted to use midazolam to execute Clayton Darrell Lockett, 38, who had been sentenced to death for the 1999 ...

Seventh Circuit Reverses $6.7 Million Indemnification Award for Milwaukee Jail Rape

by Derek Gilna

On September 14, 2018, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a Milwaukee, Wisconsin federal jury verdict that awarded $6.7 million in damages against Milwaukee County to a woman raped by a guard while she was housed at the county jail. [See: PLN, Feb. 2018, p.26; Sept. 2017, p.52].

The appellate ruling let the jury verdict and award stand against the guard, Xavier D. Thicklen, but held Milwaukee County was not obligated to indemnify him for the damages award. 

The Court of Appeals noted that when Thicklen was hired as a jailer in 2012, he was advised of the jail’s zero tolerance policy as to sexual contact with prisoners and received training to avoid such contact. However, notwithstanding that policy and training, he repeatedly raped prisoner Shonda Martin, 19, including while she was pregnant and after she gave birth.

Martin filed a civil rights suit in federal court against both Thicklen and the county for violation of her Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, seeking indemnification under Wisconsin Statute 895.46. She also sued for damages for being shackled while she gave birth, for failure of the county to intervene and for indemnification by ...

Illinois DOC Settles Lawsuit Filed by Deaf, Hard of Hearing Prisoners

by Derek Gilna

The Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) has settled a class-action suit brought by deaf and hard of hearing prisoners who said they were denied sign-language interpreters for what was called “high-stakes interactions” with prison staff. Prior to the settlement, such prisoners had effectively been denied access to educational programs, medical visits, disciplinary proceedings, religious services and vocational training.

According to Barry Taylor with Equip for Equality, “If you can’t access those programs, you’re being penalized for no other reason except that you have a disability.” Although he estimated the number of deaf prisoners in the IDOC to be approximately 300, he said prison officials did not screen incoming prisoners for hearing loss.

 “From my perspective, Illinois really dragged its feet,” observed Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, who noted the case was filed in 2011. “Other prison litigation [has] been resolved in much shorter time periods.”

The lawsuit alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. 

“[I]njuries suffered by Plaintiffs as a result of the Department’s failure ...

Texas Prison Air Conditioning Costs Much Lower than Expected

by Ed Lyon 

Between 1998 and 2014, at least 23 Texas prisoners died due to excessive heat in housing units and transport buses. Most Texas state prisons are not air conditioned. A federal lawsuit filed on behalf of prisoners at the Wallace Pack Unit initially resulted in an injunction and then a settlement agreement to address heat-related issues that was approved by the district court in May 2018. [See: PLN, July 2018, p.1].

During that case, which cost the state over $7 million in litigation expenses, an expert for the prison system falsely testified in 2017 that it would cost $20 million to air condition the unit, while experts for the Texas Civil Rights Project, which represented the prisoners, presented a more realistic $450,000 figure. 

The state’s original estimate to air condition the Wallace Pack Unit dropped to $11 million before the settlement. Since then, the state comptroller’s office lowered that cost to $7 million because construction upgrades were not needed. Then, in August 2018, the cost to air condition the prison dropped again to $4 million – significantly less than the original estimate and around half what it cost the state to litigate the case ...

Under Pressure, Some Politicians Return Private Prison Campaign Cash

by Steve Horn

The 2018 election cycle saw a surge in the number of candidates and lawmakers promising to forego campaign donations from private prison operators such as Nashville-based CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) and The GEO Group, headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida. The catalyst appears to have been public backlash to the Trump administration’s controversial policy, implemented in the summer of 2018, that resulted in the forced separation of parents and children held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which contracts with private companies to operate detention facilities.

Making the Pledge

Of ten members of the U.S. House of Representatives who pledged not to take private prison money, eight were Democrats. U.S. Rep. John Conyers, who returned $1,000 in donations, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, who gave back $5,000, were retiring members of Congress, who usually return unused funds contributed to their campaigns or to an aligned political action committee (PAC). Oklahoma U.S. Senator James Lankford was the only Republican not retiring to return a private prison contribution – in his case, $2,500. 

During June 2018 alone, four GOP politicians or their aligned PACs accepted donations from private prison firms: Missouri ...

Three Wrongfully Convicted Ohio Prisoners Receive $19.5 Million

by Derek Gilna

Eugene Johnson, Derrick Wheatt and Laurese Glover, also known as the East Cleveland Three, wrongfully convicted of the 1995 murder of Clifton Hudson, Jr., received a settlement totaling $4.5 million from Cuyahoga County, Ohio in March 2018. Eight months later they each received a $5 million jury award in a lawsuit against city police detectives who had investigated their case.

Johnson, Wheatt and Glover, who were convicted as teenagers and spent 20 years in prison, were freed in 2015 after an extensive investigation by the Ohio Innocence Project found police and prosecutors withheld evidence that would have exonerated them.

The trio had steadfastly maintained their innocence since they were arrested, tried and convicted. Following their release from prison, they filed suit in Common Pleas Court against Cuyahoga County and former prosecutors Deborah Naiman and Carmen Marino. 

According to Dave Lambert, Cuyahoga County’s chief prosecutor, the county settled the lawsuit to “put this long-running matter behind us, and to avoid running the unacceptable risk of taxpayers footing the bill for large verdicts against the county based upon the amount of time these plaintiffs spent in prison.”

Common Pleas Judge Nancy Russo had ordered a new ...

All Seven Arkansas Supreme Court Justices Face Ethics Charges

In September 2018, the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission formally charged state Supreme Court Justices Dan Kemp, Robin Wynne, Courtney Goodson, Josephine “Jo” Hart, Karen Baker and Rhonda Wood with violating the state’s judicial canons. A similar ethics charge against the seventh justice, Shawn Womack, was filed the following month.

The charges were in response to a complaint by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen. Griffen had issued an order on April 14, 2017, Good Friday, that temporarily halted state executions; that same day he participated in a protest against capital punishment and laid on a mock gurney in front of the governor’s mansion. 

In the late afternoon of April 15, 2017, a Saturday, the clerk for the Supreme Court emailed Griffen’s office and informed him that Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge had filed a request to vacate his order and asked for his removal from all capital cases because he “cannot be considered remotely impartial on issues related to the death penalty.” Griffen was given less than two days over the weekend to respond. By Monday morning he was stripped of his authority to hear death penalty cases; later that day, the Supreme Court reversed ...

Illinois Calculates the High Costs of Recidivism

by Ed Lyon 

The state of Illinois seems to be getting serious about downsizing its prison population and reducing the number of offenders who return to prison after being paroled. Governor Bruce Rauner created a task force in 2015, the Illinois State Commission of Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, to promulgate policies to achieve a 25 percent reduction in the state’s prison population by 2025. Recent data already show positive results. 

Despite the success in lowering the number of state prisoners, current recidivism statistics are dismal. It is anticipated that 96 percent of Illinois prisoners will eventually be released. Seventeen percent will reoffend within a year, while 43 percent will reoffend within three years. In 2016, Illinois saw 71,551 new convictions; of those, 70,610, or 89 percent, were reoffenders headed back to prison. 

A major incentive in the drive to downsize the prison population is a push to significantly reduce the state’s recidivism rate. A companion to the Commission formed by Governor Rauner is the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council. In a July 2018 report, the Council predicted that it will cost Illinois taxpayers more than $13 billion over the next five years if ...

Texas Prison System Cuts Phone Rates Over 75 Percent; Rates Drop in Other States, Too

by Matt Clarke

In a monthly meeting held in the ballroom of an Austin hotel on August 24, 2018, the Texas Board of Criminal Justice – the agency that establishes rules by which the Texas prison and parole systems operate – voted unanimously to reduce the cost of phone calls made by prisoners from a maximum of $0.26 a minute to $0.06 a minute. The Board also increased the cap on the length of calls from 20 to 30 minutes. The ruling went into effect on September 1, 2018. 

The move came as the Board debated a new prison phone contract for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). The new seven-year contract was awarded in a competitive bidding process to current TDCJ telecom provider CenturyLink, based in Monroe, Louisiana. It requires the company to update existing equipment and install video visitation systems in 12 facilities located in major metropolitan areas. The $0.06-per-minute rate applies both to in-state and long distance phone calls at all TDCJ facilities. 

“This is great news for families who are stressed by incarceration both financially and emotionally,” said Jennifer Erschabek, executive director of the Texas Inmate Families Association, who ...

Hawaii Prison Guards’ Union Fights Policy of Denying Promotions

by Matt Clarke 

In Hawaii, the United Public Workers union represents around 13,000 state and county employees, including approximately 1,200 prison guards. The union has been engaged in a seven-year battle against the Department of Public Safety’s policy of denying promotions to guards who were suspended for disciplinary violations within the preceding two years.

Having unsuccessfully pursued that claim before the Merits Appeals Board, the circuit court and appellate court, the union is taking the case to the Supreme Court of Hawaii. 

The union’s argument centers around the requirement of Article XVI of the state constitution that public employment “shall be based on the merit principle.” It claims that, in the consolidated cases of five prison guards who were denied promotions in 2010 and 2011, the policy prevented the best candidate from being promoted in violation of the merit principle. It noted there is no such “bright line” prohibiting the promotion of guards who, for example, have been fired from previous jobs or convicted of a criminal offense. Those cases are decided on an individual basis. The union also noted that the plaintiffs were eligible for and often received temporary assignments to higher ...

Protesters Rally Against Private Prison Contractor GEO Group

by David M. Reutter

Activists protesting President Trump’s immigration policies are also rallying against a company that profits from immigrant detention: The GEO Group. The activists have been protesting at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities as well as GEO-run detention centers.

At $471 million, GEO Group’s contract with ICE is the agency’s largest. The company has outgrown its headquarters in Boca Raton, Florida, where a new six-story building is under construction. Meanwhile, protestors claim that people detained for immigration violations, which are civil matters, are treated like criminals in ICE detention facilities. 

The protests ruffled the feathers of GEO Group to such a degree that it employed the law firm of Holland & Knight to send Florida-based Dream Defenders a stern cease and desist letter that accused the group of libel and inciting violence. That letter came just four days before a series of planned protests. 

Dream Defenders was a force behind the Florida Democratic Party’s agreement to stop taking donations from private prison contractors such as GEO Group and Nashville, Tennessee-based CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) – a promise repeated by the Democratic parties of New York and California, said the organization’s leader, Rachael Gilmer ...

Seventh Circuit Denies Wisconsin Prisoner’s Claims Against Medical Staff

by Derek Gilna

In an August 23, 2018 ruling, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals denied the deliberate indifference and state law negligence claims raised by Oshkosh Correctional Institution prisoner Donald C. Wilson, who filed a federal civil rights suit against the Wisconsin Department of Corrections in 2009 over medical care for Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, pulmonary distress, and throat and neck pain.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s summary judgment order in favor of the defendants, essentially holding that Wilson had failed to provide expert testimony required to support his claims.

According to the appellate decision, “[D]eliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the ‘unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain’ proscribed by the Eighth Amendment.” 

However, the Seventh Circuit held no reasonable jury could be expected to rule in Wilson’s favor because he failed to prove he had a serious medical condition. In fact, the Court of Appeals said, prison medical staff had conducted extensive examinations and found only that Wilson suffered from a mental health condition, not Alzheimer’s or other maladies. One of the defendant doctors, the Court wrote, “worked with endocrinologists, an otolaryngologist, a speech pathologist, a pulmonologist, a neurosurgeon ...

Oklahoma is Number One ... in Incarceration Rates

by Matt Clarke

According to a June 2018 report by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), Oklahoma’s incarceration rate has surpassed not only that of every other state in the U.S., but also of almost every other nation. To calculate the rates, PPI totaled the number of prisoners in both state prisons and local jails. The average incarceration rate in the U.S. was 698 prisoners per 100,000 residents.

With 1,079 prisoners per 100,000 residents, the rate in the Sooner state vaulted past that of the previous leader, Louisiana, whose rate fell to 1,052 per 100,000 thanks to recent criminal justice reforms passed by the state legislature.

Oklahoma’s own reform efforts include a 2016 referendum in which voters approved the reclassification of simple drug possession and some minor property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. According to Open Justice Oklahoma, fiscal year 2018 saw a 28 percent drop in the number of felony charges filed.

Another pair of laws passed in 2018 will end mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent drug-related and burglary offenses, as well as ease sentences for repeat drug offenders. But those efforts are expected to reduce only the growth in the rate ...

$10 Million Award for Wrongly Jailed Philadelphia Man

Philadelphia jury awarded Khanefah Boozer $10 million in a state court lawsuit that alleged police officer Ryan Waltman had falsely accused Boozer of firing shots at him.

Boozer was the designated driver during a January 22, 2011 night out with friends. After an evening at a bar, Boozer’s friends ...

$1 Million Settlement in Lawsuit Over Texas Jail Prisoner’s Death

by Matt Clarke

A federal civil rights lawsuit brought by the family of a Texas prisoner who died after jailers ignored his rapidly deteriorating mental and physical condition settled for $1 million. 

When Fernando Longoria, 29, reported to the Carrizales-Rucker Cameron County Detention Center in Texas in January 2015 ...

Florida Prisoner’s Gender Dysphoria Requires Hormone Therapy, 
Social Transitioning Treatment

Following a bench trial, on August 22, 2018 a Florida federal district court held that state prison officials were deliberately indifferent to transgender prisoner Reiyn Keohane’s serious medical condition of gender dysphoria. The court said the denial of hormone therapy, as well as bras, panties and access to female grooming standards, “ends now.” [See: PLN, Nov. 2018, p.40].

Keohane was born anatomically male but began to identify as female at age eight. Since she was 14, Keohane has worn women’s clothing, makeup and hair styles, adopted a feminine name, and used female pronouns at school and with family and friends. “In short, she’s lived as a woman in all aspects of her life since her early teens,” the district court wrote.

That changed on September 22, 2013, when Keohane was charged with attempted second-degree murder in connection with an incident involving her roommate. Just six weeks earlier, Keohane had begun hormone therapy to treat her gender dysphoria. That treatment was denied at the Lee County Jail, and under the Florida Department of Corrections’ (FDOC) “freeze policy,” it was also denied when she began serving a 15-year sentence.

Keohane filed a flurry of grievances at several prisons ...

Report Outlines Eight Ways to Shorten Excessive Prison Sentences

by Chad Marks

The United States is home to five percent of the world’s population and around 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Our incarceration rate is 19 percent higher than Turkmenistan’s, 36 percent higher than Cuba’s and 57 percent higher than Russia’s. There is no other democracy that has a prison system anything like in the U.S., either in terms of incarceration rates or numbers. We spend about $80 billion a year on corrections alone.

Mass incarceration is a problem that liberals often approach as an issue of economic injustice and structural racism. Conservatives usually see it as a matter of government overspending and overreach. Recently, lawmakers have begun lessening penalties for drug-related crimes and low-level property offenses, resulting in prison populations flattening out. 

While those developments have helped in some ways, they are not the answer to the real question, which is how to fix the decades-long practice of sending so many people to prison for far too long.

The Massachusetts-based Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) issued a report in November 2018 titled “Eight Keys to Mercy,” which outlines eight ways to help reduce the nation’s massive prison population. Jorge Renaud, the author of the report ...

Federal Judge Orders Prison Doctor to Face Deliberate Indifference Claims

by Chad Marks

A federal judge in Indiana ruled on June 12, 2018 that prison doctor Paul Talbot must answer a complaint filed by state prisoner Billy J. Lemond.

Lemond was incarcerated at the Pendleton Correctional Facility when he required back surgery. On August 24, 2015, he underwent decompressive laminectomy surgery at an outside hospital. Dr. Gautam Phookan, who performed the procedure, prescribed a 30-day supply of pain medication and physical therapy. Two days later, Lemond was discharged and returned to Pendleton. 

Once at the prison, Dr. Talbot, employed by private medical contractor Corizon, changed Lemond’s pain medication from Norco to Tramadol, and from 30 days to just five days. He also decided that physical therapy was not needed.

Lemond filed suit arguing that Dr. Talbot had violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment by being deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. Specifically, the doctor had failed to provide him with prescribed pain medication and failed to order physical therapy for eight months; as a result, Lemond suffered unnecessary pain and loss of mobility.

Dr. Talbot moved to have the suit dismissed on summary judgment. Summary judgment is appropriate when the movant shows there is ...

Mississippi: More Indictments from Former DOC Commissioner Epps Corruption Scandal

by Kevin Bliss

In September 2018, Michael LeBlanc, Sr., Michael LeBlanc, Jr., Tawasky L. Ventroy and Jacque B. Jackson were indicted on bribery and conspiracy charges stemming from a 2014 corruption investigation centered on former Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Christopher B. Epps. The four were accused of exchanging cash and casino chips for preferential treatment in securing contracts for commissary and phone services.

Epps was under investigation for taking more than $1.4 million in bribes and kickbacks when he and former Mississippi state lawmaker Cecil McCrory were indicted on 49 counts. 

Epps immediately began cooperating with the FBI; with his assistance, they were able to bring charges against former state Senator Irb Benjamin, former MDOC insurance broker Guy “Butch” Evans, prison consultant Sam Waggoner, businessman Mark Lonogoria, consultant Robert Simmons, Dr. Cecil Reddix and the wife of former House Corrections Chairman Bennett Malone. Benjamin admitted to bribing Epps to keep certain jails full of prisoners so he could receive greater profits on contracted services at those facilities. [See: PLN, Oct. 2015, p.42].

District Judge Henry Wingate, who sentenced Epps, was amazed at the scope of the corruption. “This is the largest graft operation in the state ...

Tennessee: Class-Action Suit Against Private 
Prison Over Diabetic Care Can Proceed

In October 2018, a federal district court declined to dismiss a class-action lawsuit that claimed insulin-dependent diabetic prisoners at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Tennessee are denied basic care for their medical condition.

Trousdale is operated by CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America. The prisoners alleged claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The constitutional claims related to deliberate indifference to serious medical needs by denying blood-sugar monitoring and insulin in coordination with regular meal times.

The defendants included CoreCivic and the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC), and both filed dispositive motions. The TDOC’s motion, based on the plaintiffs’ failure to exhaust administrative remedies, was denied because there were disputed facts that could not be resolved at the motion to dismiss stage.

CoreCivic moved for summary judgment, arguing failure to exhaust and contending the action was moot because the plaintiffs had been transferred to other facilities and the case had not yet been certified as a class-action. For the same reasons as the TDOC’s motion, CoreCivic’s was denied as to the exhaustion issue. The district court noted there was a question as to whether a single member of a class-action satisfied the ...

Baby Dies Days After Prisoner Gives Birth in Isolation Cell at Texas Jail

by Matt Clarke

On May 17, 2018, baby Cashh arrived in the world, slipping out of his mother onto the floor of an isolation cell at the Ellis County Jail in Texas. Cashh survived only nine days following his traumatic and premature birth. [See: PLN, Oct. 2018, p.51]. His mother, Shaye Marie Bear, 25, had been experiencing labor for two days, but jail guards dismissed her screams of pain and a doctor misdiagnosed her condition.

Bear, an admitted methamphetamine addict, had been arrested two months earlier for drug possession. She was five months pregnant. Her bail was set at $5,000 – more than she or her family could afford.

On the morning she gave birth, Bear saw a doctor employed by Correct Care Solutions, the Tennessee-based company that contracts to provide medical care at the jail. She told the doctor that she had been experiencing labor pains for two days and full contractions for hours. The doctor measured her cervix and decided she was not in labor. He said her vaginal bleeding was likely due to an infection. 

That afternoon, Bear had a bond reduction hearing. According to a transcript, she told the judge that she ...

Print Media and Prisoner Activism

by Stephen Wilson

Because America’s prisons are its most opaque institutions, prisoners and their allies have always employed strategies of visibility to create awareness and understanding of who is being held captive and the conditions of their captivity. Print media – books, magazines, newsletters, newspapers, zines, pamphlets and visual art – has been a critical part of those various strategies of visibility. 

Throughout the different eras of the American Prison Movement, but especially between the late '60s and early '80s, a number of platforms were created to connect prisoners to one another and their allies. Streams of prisoner-created content flowed from behind the walls and into the hands of allies who published and disseminated the materials. Across the prison movement, “prisoners used media to sustain connections with other prisoners and with sympathetic outsiders. As collective action became more difficult, writing and editing provided an opportunity to continue working collaboratively with others on both sides of the prison walls.”1

Print media kept prisoners connected to the social justice movements of the day and enabled them to be active participants. Allies created opportunities and platforms for prisoners to be heard. Prisoners’ voices were given spaces to articulate their issues ...

Taser Misuse at California Jail Costs County $1.15 Million

by Derek Gilna

On March 5, 2018, the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department in California settled a federal civil rights lawsuit that alleged deputies at the Rancho Cucamonga jail engaged in a practice of “tasing” prisoners for their own personal amusement. 

The $1.15 million settlement on behalf ...

One in 55 Adults on Probation or Parole, Study Finds

by Rick Anderson

The number of people on probation and parole increased 239 percent from 1980 to 2016, according to a September 2018 report by the Pew Research Center. That spurred a dramatic rise in the per capita rate of people under community supervision, which grew to one out of every 55 adults in the United States – nearly two percent of the adult population. 

Despite a steady 11 percent decline in the community supervision population since reaching its peak in 2007, the 4.5 million people currently on parole or probation is more than double the 2.2 million prisoners serving time in state and federal prisons and local jails. 

The policies, rules and regulations governing supervised release vary widely from state to state, researchers noted, as do the per capita rates. In Georgia, for example, one of every 18 adults is on community supervision, while in New Hampshire the rate is one of every 168.

“This massive scale has too often prevented the community supervision system from effectively delivering on its mission to promote public safety through behavioral change and accountability,” said Jake Horowitz, director of Pew’s public performance project. 

Although roughly half the ...

Ninth Circuit Grants Habeas Relief for Ineffective Assistance of Resentencing Counsel

by Matt Clarke

On July 11, 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted habeas relief to an Arizona death row prisoner based on ineffective assistance of counsel at resentencing. 

Michael Ray White was manipulated by a woman with whom he was having an affair into shooting her husband so she could collect on a life insurance policy. The wounds he inflicted would not have been fatal were it not for a medical error at the hospital. 

White was convicted of capital murder and received the death penalty. After losing his direct appeal, he received state habeas relief – a new mitigation hearing and resentencing. However, White’s counsel for resentencing failed to challenge the only aggravating factor that had made White eligible for the death penalty – whether the murder was for pecuniary gain – or to investigate his background for mitigating circumstances. 

There was “abundant and readily available evidence” that White was suffering from mental illness as well as Graves’ disease, which has neuropsychological effects. He had also been abused as a child and struggled with low intellectual function. However, his resentencing counsel merely relied on White’s statement to a probation officer that “he ...

News in Brief

Alabama: Joshua Wade Ray’s girlfriend was busted by undercover sheriff’s investigators while she passed methamphetamine, marijuana, tobacco, a lighter, rolling papers and two syringes to him during a March 7, 2018 court appearance. Lauren Whitney Foust, 33, taped a package containing the contraband to the Jefferson County courthouse floor. Ray, 36, asked to go to the bathroom, dropped a folder as he passed Foust and grabbed the taped package. Foust was booked into the Jefferson County Jail on $20,000 bond, charged with unlawful distribution of a controlled substance, promoting prison contraband and conspiracy to commit a controlled substance crime. She admitted to the scheme when she was stopped outside the courtroom. Ray was already incarcerated on a string of non-drug related charges. “I suppose love knows no bounds or they are just stupid. I suspect it’s more of the latter,” said Chief Deputy Randy Christian.

Arizona: A report by the Department of Corrections dated March 13, 2018 praised private prison firm CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, for maintaining public safety and acting “in accordance with agency policies” during a February 25, 2018 riot between black and Hispanic prisoners at the Red Rock Correctional Center in Eloy. Staff ...


Federal Prison Handbook



Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual



Advertise here




Prisoner Education Guide side