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Prison Legal News: July, 2019

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Volume 30, Number 7

In this issue:

  1. The Second Step: Invest in Prison Education Programs, Reinstate Pell Grants (p 1)
  2. Sixth Circuit Rules Suit May Proceed Where State Judge Offered Reduced Sentences for Sterilization (p 10)
  3. From the Editor (p 11)
  4. “I Had Nothing”: How Parole Perpetuates a Cycle of Incarceration and Instability (p 12)
  5. Settlement Reached in Suit Over Failure to Keep Released L.A. County Prisoners from Becoming Homeless (p 15)
  6. Federal Court Rules in Favor of HRDC in Virginia Jail Censorship Suit (p 16)
  7. Canada: Long-Term Segregation of Mentally Ill Prisoners Unconstitutional; $20 Million in Damages (p 17)
  8. Imagine Pleading Guilty Because You Can’t Afford to Call Your Lawyer (p 18)
  9. GEO Group Produces Litigation Documents After HRDC Files Public Records Suit (p 20)
  10. New Mexico Riot Raises Questions About Private Prison Company’s Competence (p 22)
  11. New Indianapolis Jail Will Not be Run by a Private Prison Company, but is Being Built on Contaminated Land (p 22)
  12. South Carolina: Two Women Drown in Sheriff’s Transport Van, Deputies Charged (p 23)
  13. South Carolina Fails to Evacuate Prisoners Threatened by Hurricane (p 24)
  14. New York Sheriff Loses Lawsuit, Must Report Serious Prisoner Incidents to State Agency (p 24)
  15. Some Prisons Are Using Virtual Reality for Reentry and Other Programs (p 26)
  16. New Study Finds Mass Incarceration Impacts Over Half of U.S. Families (p 26)
  17. Fourth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of South Carolina Prisoner’s Suit Over Safekeeper Status (p 28)
  18. D.C. Court Awards $501 Million in Suit Against North Korea for Torture-Death of Prisoner (p 28)
  19. 17 Indicted in SC Prison Smuggling Ring (p 29)
  20. “Game of Kings” Has Large Following, Long History Behind Bars (p 30)
  21. Native American Prisoners Win Lawsuit Over Right to Wear Long Hair (p 31)
  22. Fifth Circuit Holds Transgender Prisoner Not Entitled to Sex Reassignment Surgery (p 32)
  23. Tennessee: Federal Court Grants Class-Action Status in Shareholder Suit Against CoreCivic (p 32)
  24. $115,000 Settlement after Nebraska Prison Nurses Ignore Prisoner’s Heart Attack (p 33)
  25. California: Denial of Bed During Jail Disturbances Not a Constitutional Violation (p 34)
  26. Ninth Circuit Issues Ruling on Arizona DOC Stipulated Settlement (p 34)
  27. Nevada: Jail Death Due to Excessive Force Leads to $175,000 in Settlements (p 35)
  28. Mississippi Prison Industry Program Faltering, CEO Fired (p 36)
  29. Eighth Circuit Reinstates Iowa Prisoner’s Retaliation Claims (p 36)
  30. Federal Judge Holds Bivens Not Applicable to Prison Workplace Discrimination Claims (p 38)
  31. Michigan: $40,000 Settlement for Parole Violation Sanctions Absent Due Process (p 38)
  32. End of Gubernatorial Terms Bring Pardons, Commutations (p 40)
  33. Minnesota Sheriff Hit with Attorney Fees Award in Civil Rights Case (p 42)
  34. Former Louisiana Warden Nate Cain, Son of Infamous Burl Cain, Pleads Guilty (p 42)
  35. Monterey County, California Pays $365,000 for Jail Prisoner’s Death (p 43)
  36. Mentally Ill Texas Woman “Ignored to Death” After Five Months in Jail (p 44)
  37. Pennsylvania Prisoners’ Cigarette Stashes to Go Up in Smoke (p 44)
  38. More States on Track to Restore Voting Rights to Felons, but Not Without Hurdles (p 46)
  39. Interim Attorney Fees Awarded in Kentucky Good Time Lawsuit (p 47)
  40. New Bill Restricts Use of Solitary Confinement in New Mexico (p 48)
  41. Scammers Deprive Prisoners with Legitimate Substance Abuse Problems of BOP Drug Treatment (p 49)
  42. Texas Bans All Clergy from Death Chamber after Supreme Court Stays Execution (p 50)
  43. Arrestee Dies in a Jail with No Medical Staff; Eleventh Circuit Reverses Dismissal (p 50)
  44. Michigan Prisoner Dies from Cocaine Overdose, Sergeant and Paramedics Charged, $3.75 Million Settlement (p 51)
  45. Minnesota Prisoners Win Access to New Hepatitis C Medications (p 52)
  46. Maine: Prosecutorial Misconduct in False Rape Case Results in $2.1 Million in Damages (p 52)
  47. New Jersey Federal Court Approves $1.5 Million Jail Strip-Search Settlement (p 53)
  48. Florida Prisons and Jails Retaliate Against Prisoners Who File Lawsuits by Countersuing for Costs of Incarceration (p 54)
  49. Study Finds More Private Prisons Result in Judges Imposing Slightly Longer Sentences (p 54)
  50. Federal Government Pays Nation of Islam to Teach BOP Prisoners (p 55)
  51. Florida: No Qualified Immunity for Jail Medical Staff in Prisoner’s Death (p 56)
  52. Texas Prisoner’s Lawsuit Over Reaction to Prison Blankets Moves Forward (p 56)
  53. $3 Million Settlement Where Prison Doctor Failed to Treat Disabled Illinois Prisoner (p 57)
  54. Sheriff, Undersheriff and Deputies Resign Over Safety Issues at Oklahoma Jail (p 58)
  55. Texas Prisoner Sues Former Guards for Planting Screwdrivers in His Cell (p 58)
  56. Montana Parolee Sues CoreCivic Over Prison Assault, Brain Injury (p 59)
  57. Fifth Circuit Reinstates Texas Prisoner’s Excessive Force Claims (p 60)
  58. Michigan: Settlement in Class-Action Suit by Prisoners with Hearing Disabilities (p 60)
  59. Motions to Dismiss by Corizon and Wexford Denied in Lawsuit Over Florida Prisoner’s Double Leg Amputation (p 62)
  60. Former Prisoner Becomes California Coffee Entrepreneur (p 62)
  61. News in Brief (p 63)

The Second Step: Invest in Prison Education Programs, Reinstate Pell Grants

by Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Aaron Kinzel is a professor of criminal justice at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Jose Bou is the manager of Equity, Family and Community Partnerships in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Sean Pica is the executive director of Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison. Aminah Elster is a proud student at her dream school, the University of California at Berkeley. These four people don’t know each other, but they all have something in common: All are former prisoners who attended college while incarcerated. 

Once commonplace in American prisons, programs that offer access to college courses are now available to only about six percent of the nearly 2.3 million people imprisoned nationwide. There are barriers to obtaining a college degree while incarcerated, the most significant of which is financial. Unless a prisoner is lucky enough to end up at a facility where a subsidized degree program is available, he or she must come up with the money to pay for courses. Bou was one of these lucky few, attending Boston University through a prison-based college program funded by alumni.

“It was just cosmic luck,” Bou said. “Don’t look at Jose Bou and say, ‘Why don’t you do it just ...

Sixth Circuit Rules Suit May Proceed Where State Judge Offered Reduced Sentences for Sterilization

by Douglas Ankney

On April 4, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed a district court’s order that dismissed a lawsuit filed by former jail prisoners in White County, Tennessee as moot.

The case, brought by plaintiffs Christopher Sullivan, Nathan Haskell and William Gentry, alleged that White County General Sessions Judge Sam Benningfield violated their rights under the Equal Protection Clause as a result of three orders he had issued in 2017. 

In the first order, Benningfield offered a 30-day sentence reduction to female prisoners who underwent a surgical implant of a Nexplanon birth control device. He also offered the same sentence credit to male prisoners who received vasectomies.

After intense, national media coverage, Benningfield issued a second order rescinding his initial offer, but specifying any prisoners who had already signed up to receive the credit would still get it without having to undergo sterilization. In a third order, Benningfield clarified that, as of the date of the second order, the offer was no longer available except to those prisoners who had signed up before the date of the second order – who would receive the sentence credit without being sterilized.

No White County jail ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

This month’s cover story about prison education seems like a well-worn but broken record. In 1994, President Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which, as I noted at the time, was the biggest foray by the federal government into so-called anti-crime legislation in the 1990s if not in U.S. history. The government massively expanded the federal death penalty, lengthened prison terms, gave prison building grants to the states and basically shoveled money at the states to encourage them to imprison even more people. The bill was so wildly successful that today, even while its critics are largely mute about its massive impact on mass incarceration, there is no talk of repealing it. One of the most overlooked but harmful aspects of the law was the ban on federal Pell grants for prisoners.

Prior to the elimination of Pell grants, most prison higher education programs were funded through such grant awards with limited supplemental state funding. With the Pell grants no longer available, virtually all states followed suit and eliminated whatever postsecondary prison programs that remained. The irony is that so long as prison education has been studied, it has been shown to ...

“I Had Nothing”: How Parole Perpetuates a Cycle of Incarceration and Instability

Richard Cannon was making gains after being released from prison. Then one arrest changed the course of his life.

by Raven Rakia, The Appeal

Richard Cannon was born into a large family in Harlem. He was the third-eldest of five children. When his stepfather was diagnosed with cancer, Cannon felt pressure to start providing for his family. His stepfather was the sole provider of the household, but now couldn’t work. Just a teenager, Cannon tried to get help, or a job, but came up empty-handed. Desperate, he attempted to take money from a sleeping passenger on the train. He was arrested, pleaded guilty to a robbery charge and was incarcerated for seven years.

That wouldn’t be Cannon’s last run-in with the criminal legal system. Less than a year after he was released, Cannon was stopped by police on his way home from a party. He later found out he was accused of committing multiple robberies. Cannon, who maintains his innocence, refused to take a plea deal and went to trial. He was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

In 2016, after Cannon had spent nearly 20 years behind bars, he was released on parole, one of the state’s ...

Settlement Reached in Suit Over Failure to Keep Released L.A. County Prisoners from Becoming Homeless

by Scott Grammer

A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit filed by the federal government against Los Angeles County over how the county’s jail system cycles “people with mental illnesses and disabilities between its jails and streets.” According to a news release by the law firm of Munger, Tolles and Olson LLP, the December 6, 2018 settlement requires “new policies to prevent inmates with mental illness from being released without arrangements for managing their mental health. Under the new policies, release plans will be developed with participation from community-based providers who can offer services to the inmates upon their release. The jail will also notify the community-based providers of the inmates’ release dates and help facilitate continuation of care after their release.”

“Discharge planning is a critical step for incarcerated individuals with mental illness,” said Bradley S. Phillips, an attorney with the law firm. “A settlement like this demonstrates that the community can and should work together to provide adequate services for all residents. Real changes can be made to combat the jail-to-homelessness cycle.”

A settlement was originally proposed by Los Angeles County in 2016, but according to a group of intervenors who joined the suit, that settlement would ...

Federal Court Rules in Favor of HRDC in Virginia Jail Censorship Suit

In June 2019, in a 42-page order, U.S. District Court Judge James P. Jones held the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority had violated the rights of the nonprofit Human Rights Defense Center by censoring books, magazines and correspondence mailed to prisoners. The court found that the publications provided “valuable and time-sensitive legal, health-related, and educational information to inmates.”

In March 2018, HRDC, which publishes Prison Legal News, filed suit against the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority and its superintendent, Stephen Clear. The complaint said jail staff had “refused to deliver hundreds of HRDC’s mailings to incarcerated persons, directly violating HRDC’s First Amendment right to free speech and communication,” and failed to provide notice of such censorship. [See: PLN, Feb. 2019, p.14].

Specifically, since September 2016 the Jail Authority had censored at least 146 issues of Prison Legal News and 44 copies of a book distributed by HRDC titled Prisoners’ Guerrilla Handbook to Correspondence Programs in the United States and Canada, as well as annual reports, letters, informational brochures and court opinions sent to prisoners.

The complaint further stated: “Without the ability to send its publications to incarcerated persons at the Jail Authority’s facilities via mail, HRDC has ...

Canada: Long-Term Segregation of Mentally Ill Prisoners Unconstitutional; $20 Million in Damages

by Kevin W. Bliss

Recently, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) violated the nation’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms by placing mentally ill prisoners in administrative segregation for extended periods of time, causing them to experience hallucinations, paranoia, self-inflicted abuse and suicidal tendencies.

Represented by attorney James Sayce, lead plaintiffs Christopher Brazeau and David Kift, both of whom suffer from mental health issues, filed a class-action suit against the CSC for practices that violated Section 7 of the Charter – protection from arbitrary state actions – and constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of Section 12. [See: PLN, Nov. 2016, p.48]. 

In March 2019, Superior Court Justice Paul Perell found in favor of Brazeau and Kift, and ordered the Canadian government to correct its solitary confinement practices by April 30 as well as pay $20 million in constitutional damages.

“For decades, academic research, commissions, inquiries, inquests, court cases, domestic and international organizations, and the correctional investigator have recommended that the Correctional Service change its policies and practices with respect to the treatment of seriously [mentally] ill inmates placed in administrative segregation. The vindication of the class members’ charter rights requires that ...

Imagine Pleading Guilty Because You Can’t Afford to Call Your Lawyer

by Victoria Law, Truthout

Imagine paying $20.12 for a 15-minute phone call. That’s how much a call from the Jennings Adult Correctional Facility in Missouri costs.

In 2013, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set rate caps on interstate calls from jails, prisons and detention facilities. Now, interstate debit or prepaid calls can cost no more than 21 cents per minute (or $3.15 for a 15-minute phone call). Two years later, in 2015, it did the same for intrastate (or in-state) calls, which make up 92 percent of all calls from incarcerated people. Prison phone providers filed lawsuits challenging these restrictions and, in June 2017, a federal court ruled in the phone companies’ favor. The ruling means that intrastate calls are not subject to FCC regulation and rates fluctuate wildly depending on each facility’s contract with the phone provider.

Jennings isn’t the only local jail with outrageous phone prices. The Arkansas County Jail charges $24.82 for a 15-minute call; in contrast, the same call from the state’s prisons costs $4.80. In Michigan, a call from the Benzie County Sheriff’s jail costs $22.56, but $2.40 from the state prison.

Even when phone costs aren’t as exorbitant, they still add up quickly. ...

GEO Group Produces Litigation Documents After HRDC Files Public Records Suit

by Christopher Zoukis, MBA

The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the parent organization of Prison Legal News, prevailed in a lawsuit seeking to force private prison contractor GEO Group to comply with Vermont’s public records law. 

The complaint, filed in a Vermont Superior Court, sought to obtain records related to lawsuits brought against GEO in connection with the company’s contract with the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC) that resulted in monetary payouts. The lawsuit alleged that GEO Group stood in the shoes of the Vermont DOC and therefore was required, as the equivalent of a public agency, to produce the requested documents. [See: PLN, June 2019, p.18].

PLN readers know this is not the first time that HRDC has resorted to litigation to obtain public documents maintained by private prison companies. In fact, it settled a similar Vermont case against CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) in 2015. [See: PLN, July 2013, p.42]. One would think that GEO would recognize its duty under Vermont’s public records statute and provide the documents requested by HRDC, based on the outcome in the prior suit involving CoreCivic. But one would be wrong.

The litigation records produced by GEO Group ...

New Mexico Riot Raises Questions About Private Prison Company’s Competence

by Kevin W. Bliss

The police department in Clayton, New Mexico and the state police are investigating a September 23, 2017 incident at the Northeast New Mexico Correctional Facility (NENMCF), which grew into the state’s most dangerous prison uprising in the past 20 years.

“What happened that evening was unacceptable,” admitted the state’s Corrections Secretary, David Jablonski. “There were major security breaches. It wasn’t safe.”

Matt Shriner was a guard at NENMCF employed by the GEO Group, the Florida-based private prison company that runs the 625-bed medium-security facility, when serial killer Clifton Bloomfield talked the inexperienced 22-year-old into opening his cell door in the Restrictive Housing Unit, used to hold prisoners who pose the greatest security risk.

“When you’re dealing with violent inmates you always have a two-man escort,” Jablonski said.

But Shriner was the only guard on duty. He did not restrain Bloomfield, who is serving sentences totaling 195 years for five murders. Shriner also had no backup, nor a radio, and when Bloomfield attacked the guard with a shank, he took possession of keys to every cell in the unit. Shriner got away, but Bloomfield began releasing the other prisoners who then took over the cell block. [See: ...

New Indianapolis Jail Will Not be Run by a Private Prison Company, but is Being Built on Contaminated Land

by Kevin W. Bliss

The Indianapolis City-County Council has approved a proposal to enter into a 40-year lease to build a new 3,000-bed criminal justice center in the Twin Aire neighborhood of Indianapolis. The facility is expected to be completed by 2022 and will combine the Marion County courts, a mental and physical health assessment and intervention center, and detention facility. 

For-profit prison company CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, has run the Marion County Jail II for the past 20 years. JPMorgan Chase & Company, one of the banks that finances CoreCivic, has been criticized for supporting the private detention industry, and announced in March 2019 that it would stop lending to such companies. JPMorgan said it would underwrite Indianapolis’ new jail, which is a piece of Mayor Joe Hogsett’s signature criminal justice reform plan seeking to address the issues of overcrowding and recidivism. 

The city is seeking $610 million in bond financing for the project, and will pay the Indianapolis-Marion County Building Authority to lease the criminal justice center over 40 years. The new facility will not be privately operated, and the city’s contract with CoreCivic will end once the new jail opens. [See: PLN, ...

South Carolina: Two Women Drown in Sheriff’s Transport Van, Deputies Charged

by Scott Grammer

Nicolette Green, 43, and Wendy Newton, 45, were not criminals. On September 18, 2018, Newton was suffering symptoms from her schizophrenia while Green had sought help from a clinic. Because doctors had ordered emergency mental health care for both women, South Carolina law required that law enforcement officers transport them to a hospital. 

Green and Newton were locked inside a steel cage in the back of a transport van, and Horry County Sheriff’s Deputies Stephen William Flood and Joshua Bishop drove them toward McLeod Hospital – straight into the floodwaters of Hurricane Florence.

The deputies’ supervisors had warned them of the floodwaters, and told them of a safe way around them, but not only did they ignore the warnings and alternate route, they bypassed a barricade in the road and drove through a National Guard checkpoint. The Guardsmen had been ordered to allow law enforcement around their barriers.

As the deputies drove through the deepening water that covered the road, the van stalled and was swept into a guardrail. They got out of the vehicle safely, but did not have a key to open the locked cage. Bishop reportedly tried to shoot the locks off, without ...

South Carolina Fails to Evacuate Prisoners Threatened by Hurricane

by Matt Clarke

In September 2018, when Hurricane Florence bore down on the U.S. coast as a dangerous Category 4 storm, over a million people in Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina were told to flee inland. Many did – especially those whose homes were located in mandatory evacuation zones. But some residents didn’t have the option of seeking higher ground and safer locations, including about 32,000 prisoners in the states’ prisons and jails. 

South Carolina Governor Henry D. McMaster ordered a mandatory evacuation of certain coastal areas, promising “we’re not going to gamble with the lives of the people of South Carolina. Not a one.” 

But several state prisons within the mandatory evacuation zones were not evacuated, including two medium-security facilities, the Ridgeland Correctional Institution in Jasper County with 934 prisoners, and the MacDougall Correctional Institution in Dorchester County with 651 prisoners. Governor McMaster later canceled the evacuation order for Jasper County, though the order for Dorchester remained in place throughout the storm.

Bryan Stirling, director of the state Department of Corrections (DOC), cited a lack of space at inland facilities to take in transferred prisoners, as well as difficulties transporting them during a large-scale evacuation of ...

New York Sheriff Loses Lawsuit, Must Report Serious Prisoner Incidents to State Agency

by Chad Marks

A sheriff in Western New York, on the losing end of a lawsuit filed by four citizens, must report serious prisoner incidents to the New York State Commission of Correction.

Sheriff Timothy B. Howard oversees the Erie County Holding Center, one of the five worst jails in the state according to the Commission. Since 2005, over 20 people have died at the holding center. One, India Cummings, a 27-year-old jail prisoner, died in 2016; according to state officials, both her mental and physical health deteriorated over the 16 days she was held at the facility.

Cummings’ mother attempted to see her daughter on numerous occasions but was told she refused the visits. Her mother’s attorney notified a judge on February 16, 2016 that Cummings needed medical help. The judge agreed, ordering her moved to a hospital. The next day she was rushed to Buffalo General Medical Center, where she died four days later.

The Commission of Correction issued a report finding the medical and mental health care provided to Cummings at the jail was “so grossly incompetent and inadequate as to shock the conscience,” and that her death “should be ruled as a homicide due to medical ...

Some Prisons Are Using Virtual Reality for Reentry and Other Programs

by Matt Clarke 

Since 2016, Colorado has been using virtual reality (VR) reentry programs for some long-term prisoners. Other states, most notably Pennsylvania and Alaska, are also experimenting with VR for reentry training and other purposes.

In 2012, the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) was faced with a dilemma when the U.S. Supreme Court made retroactive its decision prohibiting mandatory life without parole (LWOP) sentences for juveniles. The DOC has 48 prisoners who were sentenced to LWOP for crimes committed as juveniles. Many of those “juvenile lifers” are now middle aged, having never driven a car, used a debit card or even visited a laundromat. Since they were never expected to be released, they were not offered reentry programs.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling, in 2016 the Colorado legislature amended state law to prohibit LWOP and allow juvenile lifers who had served 20 to 25 years to petition for release after completion of a new specialized reentry program. The DOC contracted with New York-based NSENA VR to develop a series of interactive virtual reality videos, using the company’s software and HTC Vive headsets at a total cost of about $180,000. 

“Right now we have 32 ...

New Study Finds Mass Incarceration Impacts Over Half of U.S. Families

by Steve Horn

new survey-based report published by a multi-university team of researchers, predominantly from Cornell University and, a group of advocates for criminal justice and immigration reform, has revealed that over half of all families in the United States have been impacted by mass incarceration.

Titled “Every Second: The Impact of the Incarceration Crisis on America’s Families,” the study, released in December 2018, paints one of the most comprehensive pictures to date of the far-reaching impact of our nation’s criminal justice system. The trend lines are even more dire for people of color. 

The report reveals some startling realities, including:

• The total number of people who have ever had an immediate family member incarcerated was an estimated 113 million, according to the study – about one in every two adults in the U.S. Around 6.5 million people “have an immediate family member currently incarcerated in jail or prison (1 in 38).”

• 64 percent of U.S. adults have had an immediate or extended family member incarcerated in jail or prison. Among them, 25 percent had a sibling incarcerated, 20 percent had a parent incarcerated, 12.5 percent had a child incarcerated and over 14 percent had ...

Fourth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of South Carolina Prisoner’s Suit Over Safekeeper Status

by David M. Reutter

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a grant of summary judgment to officials who allegedly denied a pretrial detainee substantive and procedural due process when placing him in safekeeper status.

Dustin Robert Williamson, who was 20 at the time, was being held at South Carolina’s Barnwell County jail awaiting trial on November 22, 2013 when he wrote a letter to Sheriff Ed Carroll that “ranted against several individuals, confessed to murder, and proclaimed the innocence of another man. It also threatened violence against ten law enforcement officers and Judge Early.” During an interview, Williamson reportedly became “combative,” repeated his threats and struck a guard.

Jail officials decided “that Mr. Williamson needed to be placed in ‘safekeeper’ status” in the custody of the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC). The safekeeper program, established by statute, requires the governor’s approval. To qualify, it must be shown that a pretrial detainee: “(1) is a high escape risk (2) exhibits extremely violent and uncontrollable behavior and/or (3) must be removed from the county facility.” Williamson was approved for safekeeper status by then-Governor Nikki Haley, and placed into SCDC’s custody on November 25, 2013.

For the next three-and-a-half years ...

D.C. Court Awards $501 Million in Suit Against North Korea for Torture-Death of Prisoner

by Matt Clarke 

On December 24, 2018, a federal court awarded $501.1 million to the parents of Otto Warmbier after he was tried, convicted and imprisoned by North Korean officials in an attempt to extract concessions from the United States, and tortured to such an extent that he died days after being medically evacuated to the U.S.

Warmbier, an American citizen, took a tour of Asia in 2016 prior to beginning a study abroad program in Hong Kong during his junior year at the University of Virginia. 

His travels included a five-day guided tour of North Korea that was considered safe for Americans. Days before Warmbier arrived in North Korea, the U.S. announced new sanctions against that nation due to its weapons proliferation activities. When his tour group sought to leave the country, Warmbier was singled out and detained.

Four days later, North Korea claimed it had successfully tested a fusion bomb. There followed increasing tensions between the United States and North Korea, the testing of a North Korean long-range ballistic missile and additional sanctions imposed by the U.S.

On January 22, 2016, almost three weeks after his detention, North Korea announced that Warmbier had been arrested for ...

17 Indicted in SC Prison Smuggling Ring

by Scott Grammer

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson announced on November 23, 2018 that 17 indictments had been issued after an investigation into a prison contraband smuggling ring that authorities called “Operation Cash Cow.” The indictments against four prisoners, one guard and a dozen free-world persons claim that cell phones and accessories, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids, suboxone, cocaine and crack were smuggled into state facilities by “friends, wives, girlfriends, relatives, former inmates, and others.”

People on the outside would reportedly bring contraband to a dairy or bakery outside the prison. Prisoners working at those locations would package the goods into shipments of milk and bread. “SCDC’s food distribution network was used against itself to carry out this contraband operation,” said Wilson. “This [contraband] is really driving the gang violence problem we have within the Department of Corrections.” 

Contraband was also allegedly hidden for prisoners working at the Statehouse. Another method of getting contraband into prisons was for someone to simply throw the items over the fence; netting is now stretched above prison walls to eliminate such “throw-overs.” The SCDC is also trying to implement jamming technology to combat contraband cell phones. 



“Game of Kings” Has Large Following, Long History Behind Bars

by Matt Clarke 

For centuries, chess has been known as the “Game of Kings” for its ability to teach participants focus, planning and tactics. But kings are not the only people who can benefit from the strategic instruction offered by the ancient game. Chess has long been enjoyed by prisoners, too. 

At the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, prisoners have played against student chess club members from Princeton University in a semi-annual “Ivies v. Inmates” tournament since 2001. At the January 2019 meet, five students played 49 prisoners in a game setup called a simul, in which one student played multiple opponents – eight or nine in this case – simultaneously. Each group of players complimented the other on their chess skills.

“All of the players were very polite and sportsmanlike,” said Princeton student Jacob Berman, who started playing chess at age two. “They’ve expressed excitement and gratitude for the opportunity to compete with us and to get to know us.” 

In Chicago, Russian grandmaster Anatoly Karpov helped Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart start a chess program for prisoners in 2012. Karpov was the world chess champion for 16 years and worked with the program’s ...

Native American Prisoners Win Lawsuit Over Right to Wear Long Hair

by Matt Clarke 

On January 24, 2019, a Texas federal district court held that three Native American prisoners had the right to wear long hair as required by their religious beliefs.

Teddy Norris Grey Hawk Davis, Robbie Dow Goodman, William Casey and Raymond Cobbs, who are adherents of a Native American religion, were incarcerated at the McConnell Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). Their faith required them to wear long hair, but TDCJ policy prohibits male prisoners from having hair below the ears. 

In 2012, Davis filed a pro se federal civil rights lawsuit alleging the TDCJ’s grooming policy infringed on his religious rights in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000-cc-l. After Davis was released, which extinguished his claim for injunctive relief, Goodman, Casey and Cobbs joined the suit so it could continue. By the time a bench trial was held in August 2018, they were represented by counsel – including attorneys R. Paul Yetter, Robert Ellis and Steven Messer with the Houston law firm of Yetter Coleman, LLP.

Although the TDCJ’s grooming policy prohibits long hair for males, it allows female prisoners to wear long ...

Fifth Circuit Holds Transgender Prisoner Not Entitled to Sex Reassignment Surgery

by Matt Clarke 

In a 23-page opinion issued on March 29, 2019, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) did not violate the Eighth Amendment by refusing to provide an evaluation for sex reassignment surgery, or the surgery itself, to a prisoner diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

Texas state prisoner Scott Lynn Gibson has been living as a woman, using the name Vanessa Lynn Gibson, since she was 15 years old. After she threatened self-castration, Gibson was diagnosed with gender dysphoria and began receiving hormone therapy and mental health counseling. She repeatedly requested and was denied sex reassignment surgery before filing a federal civil rights action against the TDCJ, alleging departmental policy G-51.11, which governs the treatment of transgender prisoners, violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment by effectively prohibiting sex reassignment surgery. 

The TDCJ filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified and sovereign immunity, which was denied by the district court. However, the court granted summary judgment on the merits on its own initiative, and Gibson appealed. 

The Fifth Circuit appointed University of Virginia law professor Stephen Baraga to represent Gibson. He requested ...

Tennessee: Federal Court Grants Class-Action Status in Shareholder Suit Against CoreCivic

by Matt Clarke

On March 26, 2019, a federal district court in Tennessee granted class-action certification in a shareholder lawsuit brought against CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, that alleged the company made statements misrepresenting the quality and value of its services, resulting in losses to stockholders.

The suit was filed in August 2016 against defendants CoreCivic and four of its executives – CEO Damon T. Hininger, CFO David M. Garfinkle, Todd J. Mullenger and board member and former federal Bureau of Prisons director Harley G. Lappin.

Amalgamated Bank, as Trustee for the LongView Collective Investment Fund, sought to represent a class of investors who bought and sold CoreCivic stock between February 27, 2012 and August 17, 2016, including “at least 783 major institutions” and numerous minor institutions and private parties who owned the company’s stock during that period.

Amalgamated alleged it alone lost $1.2 million when CoreCivic’s stock price fell sharply after an August 18, 2016 memorandum by then-Deputy U.S. Attorney General Sally Q. Yates directed the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to phase out private prison contracts – a directive later reversed by the Trump administration. [See: PLN, Oct. 2018, p.30; Oct. 2016, p.22].

The bank’s lawsuit ...

$115,000 Settlement after Nebraska Prison Nurses Ignore Prisoner’s Heart Attack

by Ed Lyon

In mid-August 2015, diabetic Nebraska prisoner Aron Lee Boyd­-Nicholson was washing clothes in his cell when he began experiencing classic heart attack symptoms – including chest pain, dizziness and weakness – before he collapsed. Nurse Carolyn Moore tested his blood-sugar levels, then instructed him to return to the infirmary the following day if his symptoms continued. 

Boyd-Nicholson’s symptoms had worsened by the next morning to include nausea. Other diabetic prisoners and a case manager could see he was in acute pain and distress, so a wheelchair was procured and Boyd-Nicholson was taken to the infirmary by the prisoners when they went for insulin. 

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Stephanie Snodgrass and Registered Nurse (RN) April Rollins pointedly ignored Boyd-­Nicholson at the infirmary. When the situation was pointed out to the nurses by prisoner Alberto Vasquez, Rollins told Vasquez to mind his own business.

Despite a detailed protocol for medical procedures when patients presented with symptoms like those Boyd-Nicholson was experiencing, he was returned to his cell. He continued to suffer for the next five days, filing two treatment requests and a grievance. All were ignored.

On August 17, 2015, an Emergency Response Team was sent ...

California: Denial of Bed During Jail Disturbances Not a Constitutional Violation

by David M. Reutter

On January 11, 2019, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a grant of summary judgment to the defendants in a civil rights action alleging a pretrial detainee was denied a bed during his three-and-a-half-day stay at the Los Angeles County Inmate Reception Center (IRC).

Maurice Olivier was rearrested on July 12, 2006 after being erroneously released five days earlier. Upon his arrival at IRC, it was determined that his medical needs required him to be housed at the Men’s Central Jail (MCJ). While Olivier was being processed at IRC, prisoners in Los Angeles County’s jail system “repeatedly divided themselves along racial lines and fought.” The violence persisted for about three days and caused lockdowns at MCJ and other facilities, delaying intake processing.

Olivier testified that he was placed in a cell with benches that provided “inadequate space to accommodate the number of detainees at IRC.” He was forced to sleep on the floor and was not provided (nor did he request) any type of mattress or bedding over his three-and-a-half days at the jail. After the lockdowns began on July 13, 2006, the first transfers to other jails started around 2:00 a.m. on July 16. ...

Ninth Circuit Issues Ruling on Arizona DOC Stipulated Settlement

by David M. Reutter

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held on December 20, 2018 that a stipulated settlement in a conditions of confinement suit against the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC) allowed the district court to issue an order requiring the ADOC to develop and implement a plan to increase staffing levels in general. An order to use “all available community health care services” to ensure prisoners receive timely medical care also was found to be within the district court’s authority, but expanding a subclass to include close custody prisoners was not.

As previously reported in PLN, the ADOC agreed to a stipulation that required it to comply with 103 “performance measures” designed to improve the health care system in Arizona state prisons and reduce the harmful effects of solitary confinement. [See: PLN, May 2018, p.28; Feb. 2016, p.56]. Since the settlement, the district court has had to issue several orders to enforce the agreement. Its latest orders were the subject of this appeal.

The first issue addressed by the Ninth Circuit concerned the stipulation’s provision that “the Court shall not have the authority to order Defendants to ... hire a specific number or type of staff ...

Nevada: Jail Death Due to Excessive Force Leads to $175,000 in Settlements

by Dale Chappell

An excessive force death at the hands of Washoe County, Nevada sheriff’s deputies ended in settlements totaling $175,000. It was the third excessive force death in a two-year period for the Sheriff’s Department.

When 38-year-old Thomas Purdy, Jr. began acting erratically at the Peppermill Casino in Reno in 2015, security forcefully escorted him from the property. He was found lying on the ground in the parking lot, and security guards used handcuffs to restrain him until the police arrived. During his arrest, Purdy was hog-tied using a RIPP restraint.

At the Washoe County Jail, he kept telling sheriff’s deputies that he couldn’t breathe. Purdy remained hog-tied for 40 minutes until they removed the restraints in a holding cell. By then he had stopped breathing, and died shortly afterward.

Purdy’s family filed a federal lawsuit arguing that Washoe County deputies, as well as Peppermill security guards and Reno police officers, had violated his civil rights. The suit focused largely on the use of the RIPP restraint to hog-tie him. The manufacturer of the device, the lawsuit claimed, provided training to Reno police and expressly warned them to “never hog-tie a prisoner” and “never place any subject in a ...

Mississippi Prison Industry Program Faltering, CEO Fired

by David M. Reutter

The Mississippi Prison Industries Corporation (MPIC), a nonprofit “quasi-state agency,” is suffering financial losses and its future viability was questioned in a report by the state’s Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation Expenditure Review (PEER).

“The time has come for MPIC and the Legislature to consider seriously whether the state’s prison industries program has a future and, if so, what changes can be made operationally and legislatively to ensure that the program has a positive outcome,” stated the PEER report, released in May 2018.

MPIC was created in 1990, purportedly to provide prisoners with job training and realistic work experiences to prepare them to successfully integrate back into society upon their release. That vision, however, was not apparent when state Rep. Jerry Turner toured MPIC’s facilities.

“It seems to me they’ve just been more interested in being a money machine than in rehabilitating prisoners,” he said. During his tours, several prisoners shared what sounded like rehearsed comments, Rep. Turner added. 

The PEER report found several elements were missing from a program that touts itself as a vehicle of rehabilitation. It noted MPIC fails to provide employment services when prisoners are released, does not offer certified ...

Eighth Circuit Reinstates Iowa Prisoner’s Retaliation Claims

by Matt Clarke 

On February 26, 2019, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated some of the retaliation claims in a prisoner’s civil rights action that had been dismissed by the district court.

Iowa state prisoner Mark Bitzan filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) against 21 current and former Iowa Department of Corrections employees, raising numerous claims. The district court dismissed the case and Bitzan appealed.

The Eighth Circuit found no abuse of discretion in the lower court’s separation of unrelated claims from the claims underlying Bitzan’s lawsuit. It agreed that he had failed to exhaust administrative remedies on some claims and failed to show violations of his rights under the First Amendment or RLUIPA on others. The Court of Appeals also agreed that Bitzan failed to link five of the defendants to allegedly retaliatory actions taken against him, and that all of those claims and defendants had been properly dismissed. 

The appellate court concluded, however, that there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding the retaliation claims against defendants Mike Schierbrock, David DeGrange, Berl Wilcox, Mike Eisnnicher, Rebecca Bowker, Mark Roberts and Jill Johnson. In ...

Federal Judge Holds Bivens Not Applicable to Prison Workplace Discrimination Claims

by Dale Chappell

Refusing to extend Bivens to cover a prison workplace discrimination claim, last year the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey held that a remedy for such a claim would have to come from Congress, not the judiciary. 

While the decision was a defeat for federal prisoner Kendell Charles Alexander, Sr., it was instructive on when Bivens could be applied to claims arising outside the limited scope the Supreme Court has placed on Bivens remedies.

The claim filed by Alexander alleged racial discrimination by staff at the UNICOR factory at FCI Fort Dix, which he said violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment. He also claimed retaliation by UNICOR staff in violation of his First Amendment rights for filing grievances. 

Specifically, Alexander said he was employed in a UNICOR textile program, fixing sewing machines for $0.46 per hour. Although he should have received pay raises, he said the factory manager, Robert Ortiz, refused to increase his pay grade while giving promotions to white and Hispanic workers. After Alexander filed a grievance, Ortiz allegedly refused to pay him overtime, and other black workers received very little overtime. Ortiz ...

Michigan: $40,000 Settlement for Parole Violation Sanctions Absent Due Process

by David M. Reutter

A $40,000 settlement was reached in a lawsuit alleging the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) deprived a parolee of his liberty without due process or an opportunity to properly waive his rights.

In his pro se complaint, Scott Andrew Witzke alleged that MDOC officials arrested him twice for parole violations, and that parole official Ebony M. Pullins-Govantes imposed sanctions for those violations. He cited “the sheer arrogance” of the MDOC in failing to provide due process protections.

Witzke was paroled on May 26, 2016, and received a violation around three months later for “residing with a known felon.” He was directed by Parole/Probation Agent Alex J. Smith to relocate to Better Days Aftercare and pay $125 a month of his SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits to Better Days, which would constitute a violation of federal law that prohibits assigning SNAP benefits to third parties. Witzke did not comply because his parole order had not been amended.

As a result, he was arrested on September 28, 2016 when he reported to Smith’s office. He waived his right to a preliminary hearing, but the waiver form said he had “the right to a full revocation hearing before ...

End of Gubernatorial Terms Bring Pardons, Commutations

by David M. Reutter

Following the 2018 elections, outgoing governors in at least 10 states and others who remained in office resolved some outstanding clemency applications by issuing pardons and commutations.

In January 2019, then-Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner – who lost his 2018 re-election bid to J.B. Pritzker – granted 30 clemency requests on his final full day in office. Of those clemencies, 15 went to Cook County prisoners, including two commutations for convicted murderers. 

A pair of life sentences imposed on Oscar Parham for a double murder committed in 1988 during a botched drug deal were commuted to a 70-year term by Rauner. The governor also ordered the 58-year and 17-year sentences imposed on Jonathan Morgan for 1995 murder and second-degree murder convictions to run concurrently rather than consecutively. Other commutations were granted to two men convicted in separate armed robbery cases.

Outgoing Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, who was term-limited, granted six commutations, 15 pardons and one exoneration before he left office. Most noteworthy was a commutation granted to Cyntoia Brown, 30. She had been convicted of the first-degree murder and aggravated robbery of Johnny Allen, who took Brown to his home when she was working as a ...

Minnesota Sheriff Hit with Attorney Fees Award in Civil Rights Case

by Derek Gilna

Martin County, Minnesota Sheriff Jeffrey Markquart has been ordered to pay $6,075 in attorney fees to former prisoner Erik Daniel Christianson in a federal civil rights action where the district court found Christianson was the “prevailing plaintiff.” 

As noted in the court’s July 19, 2018 order, “Plaintiff ... brought this action against ... Markquart for assessing pay-for-stay costs against Christianson during his stay at the Martin County Jail without considering whether [he] qualifies for a waiver of payment of the costs.” [See: PLN, Sept. 2018, p.29].

The district court had previously found that the sheriff had violated Minnesota Statute § 641.12, by failing to determine whether Christianson was eligible for a waiver of the fees, while sidestepping constitutional issues. The court turned aside Markquart’s argument that Christianson was not the prevailing plaintiff because he did not prevail on all of his claims, saying the sheriff was “utterly confused about the legal issues in this case.” 

Under 42 U.S.C. § 1988, the court explained, a “plaintiff prevails if he or she ‘succeed[s] on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing suit.’ Hensley v. Eckerhart ...

Former Louisiana Warden Nate Cain, Son of Infamous Burl Cain, Pleads Guilty

by David M. Reutter

“Yes, sir,” said Nathan Burl Cain II.

With that reply in March 2019, the former warden of Louisiana’s Avoyelles Correctional Center, now known as the Raymond Laborde Correctional Center, abruptly ended his federal trial on corruption charges. Facing 17 counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud for misappropriating public money, Cain, 51, entered a guilty plea to two counts of wire fraud related to a gun purchase. 

As previously reported in PLN, Cain and his ex-wife, Tonia Bandy-Cain, who worked in the prison’s business office, were accused of using $152,000 in prison funds to make personal purchases on state credit cards. [See: PLN, May 2018, p.44; Jan. 2018, p.42]. The items they bought, ranging from flat screen TVs to toilet paper, were discovered at the couple’s home during a 2016 raid, according to testimony from Nicole Compton, an investigator with the Louisiana Office of Inspector General. The Cains also purchased construction materials to quietly build a new house on prison property.

“This is a case about the abuse of power and the violation of trust,” said Luke Walker, an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of ...

Monterey County, California Pays $365,000 for Jail Prisoner’s Death

by Douglas Ankney

Officials in Monterey County, California agreed to pay the family of Jacob Parenti $365,000 to settle a lawsuit over his death while he was held at the Monterey County Jail (MCJ).

In 2013, Parenti was on his way home from work when, during a traffic stop, police discovered he had a small amount of marijuana. The court offered Parenti a choice: spend one year at the MCJ or have two more years added to his probation. Parenti chose the year in jail because he wanted to later move to Butte County so he could live near his son.

Days after Parenti was incarcerated, he told his mother that MCJ staff were not providing him with his blood pressure and psychotropic medications. Then, on January 10, 2014, he reported that he thought he had the flu. He was not taken to sick call and began coughing up blood.

Five days later, a guard came to Parenti’s cell to take him to the nurse. The guard called Parenti’s name several times and shook him; he was unresponsive and had labored breathing. The guard left without summoning anyone. About an hour later, other prisoners observed that Parenti was not breathing ...

Mentally Ill Texas Woman “Ignored to Death” After Five Months in Jail

by Matt Clarke

Janice Dotson-Stephens, 61, died of natural causes at the Bexar County jail in San Antonio, Texas on December 14, 2018. The circumstances of her death were anything but “natural,” though. She spent her last five months incarcerated on a misdemeanor charge of trespassing on private property, with her bail set at $300. [See: PLN, March 2019, p.10].

San Antonio police officers arrested Dotson-Stephens on July 17, 2018 and charged her with a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail not counting time off for good behavior. Dotson-Stephens had struggled with mental illness since she was a teenager; she had previously been arrested, then transferred to a state hospital. When family members learned of her arrest, they called the hospital and were told she was not there. They assumed she had been released and would eventually resurface, which had happened in the past. Her family added they would have gladly paid her bail had they known she was locked up.

A Bexar County spokesman said Dotson-Stephens did not indicate a next of kin, and noted transferring her to a state hospital would have required a court order. 

Court records show ...

Pennsylvania Prisoners’ Cigarette Stashes to Go Up in Smoke

by Douglas Ankney

Effective July 1, 2019, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) banned tobacco use by staff and prisoners at all state prisons. Announced by DOC Secretary John Wetzel in March, the new rule means that cigarettes, cigars, tobacco, tobacco substitutes, lighters, pipes, pipe cleaners, filters, rolling papers and rollers will be deemed contraband. 

The ban, which does not affect the use of DOC-approved e-cigarettes in designated areas, follows what Wetzel called the successful implementation of a similar ban at three state prisons and the Quehanna Boot Camp. Prisoners will be given access to smoking-cessation programs and free nicotine patches; other smoking-cessation products will be available to purchase.

Smoking rates for prisoners are about twice as high as in the general population. Pennsylvania prisoners spent $8 million on tobacco products in 2018 alone, and tobacco-related illnesses account for one-third of prisoner deaths.

Even though smoking is not permitted in cells, someone being housed with a smoker, they’re definitely going to benefit from tobacco-free,” stated DOC executive deputy secretary Shirley Moore Smeal.

In July 2018, prisoners were moved from SCI Graterford in Montgomery County to a new facility, SCI Phoenix, one of the three prisons ...

More States on Track to Restore Voting Rights to Felons, but Not Without Hurdles

by Dale Chappell

In late May 2019, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak signed into law a bill that granted automatic restoration of voting rights to former prisoners. State law had already allowed voting by those released from prison for first-time, non-violent felony convictions, including those still on community supervision, and the law applied to Nevada residents convicted in other states, too. The new legislation aims to clear up confusion that left many eligible voters with felony convictions convinced they could not vote.

“This is a very significant change,” said Corey Goldstone, spokesman for the Campaign Legal Center, who estimated that over 77,000 state residents would have their voting rights restored, effective in 2020. “Nevada is about to go from being one of the most complicated states in the country to navigate to being one of the most straightforward and fair.”

According to The Sentencing Project, 6.1 million Americans were barred from voting during the 2016 election cycle due to a felony conviction, including around 1.3 million held in state or federal prisons. Due to higher incarceration rates, disenfranchisement disproportionately affects blacks. In 2016, over 20 percent of black voters were barred from casting ballots in Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia due ...

Interim Attorney Fees Awarded in Kentucky Good Time Lawsuit

by David M. Reutter

In December 2018, a Kentucky federal district court awarded interim attorney fees and costs totaling $228,445.08 in a class-action lawsuit alleging state prisoners were denied Educational Good Time (EGT) credit earned since July 15, 2011.

The suit was originally filed in Franklin County Circuit Court on September 11, 2012. After discovery and failed mediation efforts, that court certified the case as a class action in June 2015. It also found the Kentucky Department of Corrections’ (KDOC) EGT program was “arbitrary and capricious,” and granted declaratory and injunctive relief. The KDOC removed the case to federal court following that order.

The U.S. District Court ordered compliance with the circuit court’s order and required prison officials to hire an independent auditor to review prisoners’ EGT records. Class counsel then moved for an award of interim attorney fees, emphasizing the six-year duration of the case. The district court granted the motion, finding that “delaying a fee until conclusion of this matter would cause substantial hardship for the Plaintiffs and their attorneys, discouraging future similar civil rights actions.”

The prisoners are represented by attorneys Gregory A. Belzley and Camille A. Bathurst. The district court calculated the lodestar rate for ...

New Bill Restricts Use of Solitary Confinement in New Mexico

by Kevin W. Bliss

In April 2019, newly elected New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed House Bill 364, which limits the use of solitary confinement for certain prisoners housed in New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD) facilities and requires more transparency when solitary is used. 

Former NMCD Secretary Gregg Marcantel had insisted that solitary confinement – a practice defined as detention in a cell for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful and sustained human interaction – was a needed tool to safely control prisoners. Placement in segregation could be for disciplinary, administrative or medical reasons, as well as for the prisoner’s own protection, with no limit on the amount of time he or she could be held. 

Due to these differing classifications and a lack of reporting requirements, reliable data on the NMCD’s use of solitary confinement was scarce. The agency cited statistics on the proportion of the prison population held in solitary that varied from 4% to 16% depending on who asked, according to the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (CLP) and the state chapter of the ACLU, which accused prison officials of misreporting the data. 

The NMCD said its reliance on ...

Scammers Deprive Prisoners with Legitimate Substance Abuse Problems of BOP Drug Treatment

by Douglas Ankney

An industry composed of prison consultants charges thousands of dollars to help people prepare for life behind bars. One service they provide is information about the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP) offered by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). Federal prisoners with nonviolent convictions who complete the 9-to-12-month, 500-hour treatment program can receive up to a year off their sentences and spend their last six months in a halfway house or on home confinement. 

About 15,600 prisoners participated in RDAP in 2018, and thousands more are on waiting lists. To enter the program, prisoners must present evidence of substance abuse or addiction problems during the year prior to their arrest.

In January 2019, three managing partners of RDAP Law Consultants, LLC were indicted on charges of conspiracy and wire fraud, accused of advising their clients to fake an alcohol addiction to get into RDAP. Michigan residents Tony Tuan Pham (a/k/a Anh Nguyen), Samuel Copenhaver and Constance Moerland told clients to show up to prison drunk and fake withdrawal symptoms. They also provided information on how to fraudulently obtain alcohol-withdrawal medication. 

According to the indictment, Pham reportedly told a cooperating witness, “The way you get into ...

Texas Bans All Clergy from Death Chamber after Supreme Court Stays Execution

by Matt Clarke

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of execution for Texas prisoner Patrick H. Murphy on March 28, 2019, based upon his challenge to a prison policy that effectively allowed only Christian and Muslim clergy members to be present in the death chamber during executions. Within a few days, Texas officials responded by banning all clergy from the death chamber.

Murphy, 57, was sentenced to die for his part in the murder of police officer Aubery Hawkins as part of the “Texas 7” – a group of prisoners who escaped from a maximum-security facility in late 2000. The escapees were fleeing the robbery of a Dallas-area sporting goods store when Hawkins intercepted them in the parking lot. Murphy was acting as a lookout at the getaway car when the officer was shot; he was convicted of capital murder under the law of parties. [See: PLN, Oct. 2001, p.8].

The Supreme Court issued the stay on the day Murphy was scheduled to be put to death. On March 20, 2019, he had petitioned the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for a writ of prohibition to prevent his execution until his preferred spiritual adviser, a Buddhist priest, was ...

Arrestee Dies in a Jail with No Medical Staff; Eleventh Circuit Reverses Dismissal

by Ed Lyon

On April 3, 2019, the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed a district court’s dismissal of a civil rights case concerning the death of a jail detainee.

Almus Taylor, 38, was arrested by Alabama State Troopers for drunk driving on November 16, 2013, after wrecking his truck. He refused treatment by paramedics at the scene of the accident because they would not let him bring his two dogs with him in the ambulance. Taylor was then taken to the Covington County jail, and the troopers told jail staff he had been “medically cleared” for admission based on his refusal of treatment.

After being booked, Taylor told the jailers “he [was] all busted up from [a] car wreck,” which was entered in the facility’s admission log. He was scratched, had visible injuries and had to be assisted when walking to a holding cell. During the night, Taylor repeatedly told jailers he was “broke up” inside and “dying,” while moaning in pain. They reportedly told him to “shut up,” and he finally obliged them by dying after the jail’s nurse arrived in the morning and he was en route to a hospital in an ambulance. It was ...

Michigan Prisoner Dies from Cocaine Overdose, Sergeant and Paramedics Charged, $3.75 Million Settlement

by Scott Grammer

On December 10, 2017, 35-year-old William Marshall was arrested for possession of cocaine and marijuana in Westland, Michigan. At 7:51 a.m., only a bit more than an hour after being booked into jail, Marshall “had muscle spasms and was unable to walk,” according to Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy. She said “other inmates in the cell began asking for help for him.” That’s when Sgt. Ronald Buckley of the Westland Police Department called EMS. 

Paramedics Matthew Dicosola and Leah Maynard arrived at 8:01 a.m., and both they and Sgt. Buckley simply watched while Marshall convulsed in his cell, the prosecutor’s office stated. Worthy said Marshall asked for help, telling paramedics he was having a seizure. 

“He was then dragged from his cell into the hallway, at that time, neither paramedic did anything and never checked him for vital signs.... They never did an assessment and did not intervene to care for him at all,” Worthy added.

Marshall was back in his cell by 8:07 a.m., and Buckley sent the paramedics away. When he noticed almost an hour later that Marshall had not moved, he asked another officer to check his pulse. Jail staff then performed ...

Minnesota Prisoners Win Access to New Hepatitis C Medications

Minnesota prisoners have prevailed in a class-action lawsuit requiring the Department of Corrections (DOC) to provide highly effective but costly direct-acting antiviral (DAA) drugs to treat hepatitis C infections.

Five state prisoners, represented by attorneys Andrew H. Mohring, Peter J. Nickitas and Carl Peter Erlinder, filed suit in 2015 because hep C testing for prisoners was not required by the DOC and treatment was intermittent. [See: PLN, Aug. 2015, p.22]. 

DAAs, which cost between $26,000 and $100,000 per patient for the 12-week treatment regimen, have been proven to have limited side effects and a cure rate of over 90 percent. Recent lawsuits nationwide – repeatedly reported in Prison Legal News – contend that prison medical guidelines conflict with the standard of care requiring treatment of all patients, with limited exceptions, using the most effective drugs available.

U.S. District Court Judge Patrick J. Schiltz granted preliminary approval of a settlement in the case in March 2019, and ordered the Minnesota DOC to screen all prisoners for hep C and provide DAAs for any prisoner in advanced stages of the disease or who have hep C in conjunction with certain other medical conditions.

The settlement agreement expands the number ...

Maine: Prosecutorial Misconduct in False Rape Case Results in $2.1 Million in Damages

by Chad Marks

Vladek Filler found himself on the wrong side of former Hancock County District Attorney Mary Kellett. In 2007, Filler’s wife, Ligia Filler, made allegations that her husband sexually assaulted her. Kellett ignored exculpatory evidence in her overzealousness to prosecute Filler for rape and sexual assault. After two trials and two appeals, Filler was cleared of the rape charges but convicted of the assault. The assault conviction was later dismissed based on prosecutorial misconduct.

Filler believed that his wife’s allegations were in retaliation for his initiation of a separation in which he retained custody of their two children from the marriage. These allegations were made when Ligia Filler was involuntarily committed to a hospital in 2007.

In response to the misconduct, Filler filed a federal lawsuit alleging the withholding, tampering and destruction of exculpatory evidence, conspiracy, malicious prosecution and defamation. [See: PLN, Feb. 2017, p.47]. The facts showed that Kellett edited a taped statement of Ligia Filler telling her friend that she made the allegations against her husband so she could retain custody of her children, and that Kellett advised police not to comply with the defense’s subpoenas. Kellet was one of 18 individuals who Filler ...

New Jersey Federal Court Approves $1.5 Million Jail Strip-Search Settlement

by Dale Chappell

On January 31, 2019, U.S. District Court Judge Noel L. Hillman approved a $1.5 million class-action settlement in a case against Burlington County, New Jersey, where hundreds of people were improperly strip-searched at the county jail.

The case dates back to 2006, when Tammy Marie Haas, nine months pregnant at the time, was booked into the Burlington County jail for failure to pay child support. She was strip-searched, told to “bend over, cough, and spread her buttocks,” then sprayed with a chemical delousing agent. A few hours later she was released after she paid the $900 in child support she owed.

Haas filed suit in federal court in 2008, complaining that the strip search violated her civil rights. Other people filed similar complaints that were consolidated with Haas’ case, and Judge Hillman eventually granted class-action certification.

The suit was sidelined while the U.S. Supreme Court decided Florence v. County of Burlington, 566 U.S. 318 (2012) [PLN, July 2011, p.32], which held that people arrested for even minor offenses could be strip-searched when booked into jail. The defendants tried to have the case dismissed based on Florence, but Haas’ attorneys argued that the ruling didn’t ...

Florida Prisons and Jails Retaliate Against Prisoners Who File Lawsuits by Countersuing for Costs of Incarceration

by Dale Chappell

When 48-year-old Michelle Tierney died of an infected wound on her leg while in the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) in October 2014, her family filed a wrongful death suit against the FDOC and its for-profit medical provider, Corizon Health, claiming that proper care could have prevented her death. 

“Apparently, she had cysts everywhere on her body, pneumonia, and septic shock,” said her son, Ryan Tierney. “I don’t know how many competent medical professionals would have let that go.”

However, to the family’s surprise, prison officials filed a countersuit for the full cost of Tierney’s incarceration. See: Tierney v. Jones, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 151064 (N.D. Fla. July 26, 2018).

Unfortunately, this happens on a fairly regular basis: Florida prisons and jails routinely countersue prisoners who file lawsuits. Such scare tactics are intended to deter prisoners (and their families) from suing the state, and to provide a way for the state to recover any damage award it might have to pay if it loses in court. And the law is on the state’s side.

Under Florida Statutes § 960.297, the state or local authority may file a counterclaim to seek recovery of the ...

Study Finds More Private Prisons Result in Judges Imposing Slightly Longer Sentences

by Matt Clarke 

In a report published on March 24, 2019, researchers from Columbia University and UCLA found that “the opening of a private prison increases the length of sentences relative to what the crime’s and defendant’s characteristics predict.” Private prisons did not increase the chances of defendants being incarcerated, as opposed to receiving probation or some other form of alternative sentence, but did increase the prison terms of defendants who would have been sent to prison anyway. 

The core finding was that a doubling of private prison capacity led to an increase in average sentence length of 23 days, or 1.3 percent. The findings were statistically significant. 

The report – titled “Do Private Prisons Affect Criminal Sentencing?” – involved 13 states that straddle 16 state borders, and focused on trial courts in adjacent across-border counties. This allowed the study to control for local trends in crime and other local effects while comparing different private prison circumstances. It focused on their effect on the sentencing practices of state judges.

A comparison of sentencing during election years and non-election years showed no private prison influence on sentence length. Sentences increased as elections approached, but that was attributed to ...

Federal Government Pays Nation of Islam to Teach BOP Prisoners

According to news reports, the Nation of Islam (NOI) and its leaders have been paid at least $364,500 by the federal government since 2008. The money was to fund NOI religious services, spiritual guidance services, study services and other programs, based on Bureau of Prisons records.

The Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center have both labeled the Nation of Islam a hate group. NOI teaches, for example, that white people are “blue-eyed devils” and Jews are “the synagogue of Satan.” The NOI has refuted those claims.

Demetric Muhammad, a leader in the Nation of Islam Research Group, said the work the organization does with government funding is “a great benefit and blessing to the American Penal System.” He added the primary curriculum for the Nation of Islam Prison Reform Ministry is a guide written by NOI leader Louis Farrakhan entitled Self Improvement: The Basis for Community Development. It promotes the NOI’s philosophy that white people were created over 6,000 years ago by a black scientist named Yakub.

U.S. Representative Peter King, who chairs the Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the federal funding of NOI services for prisoners was “beyond the pale.”  ...

Florida: No Qualified Immunity for Jail Medical Staff in Prisoner’s Death

by David M. Reutter

Florida federal district court has held that a doctor and nurse at the Orange County Jail (OCJ) were not entitled to qualified immunity in a lawsuit filed by the estate of a pretrial detainee who died at that facility.

Max Gracia, Jr., 22, was treated at a local hospital for severe dog bites to his legs and hands that were incurred during his arrest on August 6, 2015. After being booked into OCJ, Gracia was assigned to a call in the infirmary. In addition to the multiple dog bites, medical staff were aware that Gracia was HIV positive; while he was given other medications, he did not receive the drugs needed to treat his HIV infection.

Dr. Robert J. Buck III was OCJ’s medical director and its sole doctor. He saw Gracia around the time of his admission, but never saw or inquired about him afterward. 

Medical records indicated that Gracia’s wound dressing was changed daily but his vital signs were not taken until August 9. At that time he had an abnormal heart rate of 130 and a respiratory rate of 22, and complained of “weakness and dizziness.” Other than ordering increased fluid ...

Texas Prisoner’s Lawsuit Over Reaction to Prison Blankets Moves Forward

by Matt Clarke

A lawsuit filed by a Texas prisoner with a wool allergy, who has spent a decade trying to get a blanket that will not cause an adverse reaction, has survived the state’s attempt to have the case dismissed.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) prisoner Calvin E. Weaver, 73, said he was diagnosed as “hyper-allergic” to wool in 2001. At that time, the TDCJ’s policy was to give allergic prisoners a medical pass for a cotton blanket. But in 2009 the agency changed its policy, rescinded the medical passes and took back the cotton blankets. Instead, according to court documents, prisoners with wool allergies were given non-wool synthetic blankets made of “a recycled blend of waste by-products.” According to Weaver, the replacement blankets “caused itching, open sores, and sleep deprivation resulting in hypertension and anxiety.”

Weaver filed a pro se lawsuit in federal court against the TDCJ’s executive director, the warden, a prison major, the medical director of the prison’s infirmary and a prison doctor, arguing that forcing him to use the replacement blankets, which he called “contaminated,” violated his Eighth Amendment rights. The defendants filed two motions to dismiss. 

In a March 29, 2019 order, ...

$3 Million Settlement Where Prison Doctor Failed to Treat Disabled Illinois Prisoner

by Scott Grammer

Mario Ramirez is disabled, more so now than when he was incarcerated at the Graham Correctional Center in Illinois. The facility contracted with Wexford Health Sources, owned by The Bantry Group Corp., to provide medical care to prisoners, and Wexford employed Dr. Francis Kayira. 

A lawsuit filed in 2017 alleged that Ramirez “was experiencing symptoms and/or signs of hypovolemia, including but not limited to: dehydration, diarrhea, vomiting, hyponatremia and tachycardia, during his incarceration at Graham Correctional Center.” Hypovolemia is “a state of decreased blood volume; more specifically, decrease in volume of blood plasma.” In other words, Ramirez was losing blood.

The complaint claimed that the defendants, including Dr. Kayira, were aware of Ramirez’s condition and symptoms, and that he had not been seen by a physician for over a week, “even though Defendants knew the disabled Plaintiff was experiencing continued symptoms and/or signs of hypovolemia.” Due to the defendants’ inaction and the discontinuation of what little care Ramirez received, the suit alleged that he “was thereby injured, including but not limited to: sepsis and necrosis leading to anoxic brain injury,” which left him in a “persistent vegetative state.”

The lawsuit described the contracts between the Illinois ...

Sheriff, Undersheriff and Deputies Resign Over Safety Issues at Oklahoma Jail

by Matt Clarke 

On March 18, 2019, Terry Sue Barnett, the sheriff of Nowata County, Oklahoma, resigned. So did her undersheriff, all of her deputies and everyone else in the sheriff’s department except for two dispatchers and three jailers. The reasons given for the mass resignations were safety issues at the county jail and a judge pressuring the sheriff and undersheriff to ignore those issues. 

There were already serious problems regarding the safety of prisoners housed at the jail when, on February 28, 2019, four staff members had to be hospitalized due to carbon monoxide poisoning. According to Barnett, the fire department measured carbon monoxide levels at 18, just below the lethal limit of 20. However, the reason for the carbon monoxide buildup was unknown at the time she resigned.

Barnett immediately moved all 18 prisoners at the facility to the Washington County jail in Bartlesville. She said she then came under pressure from Nowata County Associate District Judge Carl Gibson to return the prisoners. According to Barnett, Gibson called her in for a meeting and told her he would increase her salary to $75,000 if she would bring the prisoners back. When she pointed out that ...

Texas Prisoner Sues Former Guards for Planting Screwdrivers in His Cell

by Matt Clarke

In February 2019, Texas state prisoner Neil Giese filed a lawsuit against four former Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) guards – including a major, a lieutenant and a sergeant – who allegedly planted screwdrivers in his cell at the Ramsey Unit, southwest of Houston. 

As previously reported in PLN, the four former TDCJ employees, Major Juan Jackson, Lt. James Thomas, Sgt. Marcos Gallegos and guard George Wolfe, were indicted for felonies in connection with their actions involving Giese. Another TDCJ employee – Sgt. Darryll Winston – was fired for having knowledge of the misconduct and not reporting it. 

In another incident, which was unrelated but also involved Jackson, Ramsey Unit Building Captain Reginald Gilbert was demoted and transferred for setting up a system of disciplinary case quotas requiring guards to write two cases per day and even specifying what the violations should be. [See: PLN, Nov. 2018, p.34].

Giese’s problems at the Ramsey Unit began after he filed several grievances over inadequate medical care. He was repeatedly denied medical treatment, and guards who were friends of the medical staff named in his grievances allegedly began retaliating by issuing bogus disciplinary ...

Montana Parolee Sues CoreCivic Over Prison Assault, Brain Injury

by Matt Clarke

former prisoner at the Crossroads Correctional Center near Shelby, Montana is suing the facility’s private operator, CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) and its contract medical provider, alleging staff allowed another prisoner to assault him without intervening and then delayed medical care, resulting in a permanent brain injury. 

Ray Carpenter was 49 years old and serving an eight-year sentence for witness tampering when he was beaten inside his cell at Crossroads on June 2, 2016. According to Carpenter, fellow prisoner Robert Todd Kesley hit him from behind with a lock inside a sock, then threw him to the ground and kicked him repeatedly in the head for five minutes, at one point leaving the cell before returning. After the assault, Carpenter’s cellmate helped him onto his bunk where he “passed out.” He awoke around 2:30 a.m. and vomited several times, so he reported to the prison’s medical unit where his head wound was cleaned and examined. 

A few hours later, a different nurse saw Carpenter and determined that he had a severe concussion and brain bleed. She told nurse practitioner Peter Molnar that Carpenter, who was still vomiting intermittently, needed to be transported to ...

Fifth Circuit Reinstates Texas Prisoner’s Excessive Force Claims

by Matt Clarke

On April 16, 2019, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated excessive force claims raised by a Texas prisoner in a federal civil rights suit. 

Michael Bourne was being held in a segregation cell when he asked to speak to a guard captain about some money that was taken from his trust fund account. To emphasize his request, he had jammed his food tray slot so it would not close and his door so it wouldn’t open.

In response, guards deployed a chemical agent in Bourne’s cell, then forced their way in and restrained him. The incident was video-recorded, but it was impossible to see into the darkened cell on the recording because a guard was in the doorway. 

Bourne filed a pro se complaint in federal court, alleging the guards had used excessive force against him after he was “handcuffed and shackled” on the cell floor and “not a threat.” He specifically accused the guards of “physically and sexually assaulting” him by punching him, squeezing and twisting his genitals, and inserting a finger into his anus. 

Bourne said Lt. Michael Gunnels sprayed him with an entire can of chemical agent, ordered guards to ...

Michigan: Settlement in Class-Action Suit by Prisoners with Hearing Disabilities

by Douglas Ankney

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan has approved a final settlement in a class-action lawsuit brought by Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service (MPAAS) on behalf of about 200 deaf and hard of hearing prisoners held by the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). 

Federal judge Sean Cox determined that the MDOC had, for years, violated the class members’ rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA requires public facilities, including prisons, to accommodate people with disabilities to ensure they receive the same level of services and programs available to those who are not disabled.

Evidence in the case revealed that hearing-impaired prisoners had no way of communicating with loved ones by phone, would not be notified in an emergency such as a fire and were forced to attend disciplinary hearings without hearing aids or sign language interpreters. Judge Cox had previously ordered the MDOC to: 1) make videophones available to all hearing-impaired prisoners; 2) provide hearing-impaired prisoners with necessary auxiliary aids, including American Sign Language interpreters, to ensure they could equally participate in prison programs and services; 3) institute mandatory training for MDOC staff on how to identify and appropriately interact ...

Motions to Dismiss by Corizon and Wexford Denied in Lawsuit Over Florida Prisoner’s Double Leg Amputation

by Matt Clarke 

On December 14, 2018, a federal district court in Florida denied motions to dismiss by Wexford Health Sources and Corizon Health in a medical deliberate indifference case where a state prisoner’s legs were amputated. 

Craig Salvani was 38 years old when he arrived at the Florida Department of Corrections’ South Florida Reception Center on February 6, 2014. His intake medical screening included blood and urine tests; at the time, he was complaining of back pain, coughing green mucus and feeling unwell. 

Six days later, Salvani was seen by Wexford employee Esther Mathurin, who performed his initial medical exam and noted the blood and urine tests showed an infection. Salvani had symptoms of sepsis, and an X-ray showed a left lung granuloma; however, Mathurin did not order a follow-up X-ray or any treatment for the infection. 

Salvani was later transferred to the Reception Medical Center where Corizon provided healthcare services. No intake medical assessment was performed, and he said he was threatened by staff when he tried to submit a sick call request.

Four days later, Salvani received emergency medical attention at 1:14 a.m. because he could not speak and was hyperventilating, confused, had ...

Former Prisoner Becomes California Coffee Entrepreneur

by Scott Grammer

John Krause, an ex-prisoner who served time at San Quentin, has remade himself into a coffee entrepreneur. In October 2014 he opened Big House Beans, a roastery that specializes in coffees made from beans from Ethiopia, El Salvador, Indonesia and Columbia. The beans are not roasted until the last minute to ensure freshness when they are received by the buyers, which include restaurants, cafes and tech companies.

Krause, whose father died protecting him during a motorcycle accident, found himself without either parent when he was four years old. By the time his mother came back into his life when he was seven, she was an addict. Krause was raised by a grandmother. He started drinking at 12, smoking marijuana at 13 and then progressed to crystal meth. 

Krause was arrested for DUI, then a drug possession charge sent him away for two years. He was still using while on parole, and as a result spent a total of 12 years in prison by the time he was 29.

After his last release with nothing but $5 and a BART ticket to his name, he was welcomed by the congregation at Danville’s Community Presbyterian Church. He found ...

News in Brief

Alabama: Terrance Andrews, 24, was pronounced dead from multiple stab wounds at 4:20 p.m. on December 29, 2018 after a fight with a fellow prisoner at the St. Clair Correctional Facility. Cedric Leshawn Davis, 35 is suspected to be the killer. Andrews was serving 25 years for a 2013 robbery; Davis had a life sentence for killing a man in Fairhope in 2006. It is unclear what started the fight or if both prisoners had weapons. Davis has since been moved to the Limestone Correctional Facility.

Brazil: A group of 20 heavily armed men in four vehicles blew apart the front gate of the Romeu Gonçalves Abrantes prison on September 10, 2018. The only reported death was a policeman, who was shot in the head on a prison access road that had been blocked by a second group. Brazil’s prisons are at double capacity and rife with gang violence. State prisons secretary Colonel Sergio Fonseca de Souza believes the objective was to free four prisoners arrested in 2017 for using explosives to rob money transport vehicles and bank tellers. There were conflicting reports, but it was believed that more than 100 prisoners escaped and nearly 41 were recaptured ...