In a Colorado supermax facility, hunger-striking inmates have been force-fed and barred from sharing their ordeal with the outside world. A prisoner breaks his silence for the first time.
by Aviva Stahl, The Nation
It was November 11, 2015, and Mohammad Salameh hadn’t eaten in 34 days. The morning was stretching toward noon, and he was lying on a concrete platform that served as his bed when a team of guards dressed in riot gear appeared at his cell door and ordered him to cuff up. A week earlier, Salameh failed to comply with that demand – he’d been too weak to stand and walk to his door – so guards had entered his cell and dragged him out. Salameh didn’t want to be manhandled again, so he slowly pulled himself to his feet. He leaned against the wall and struggled slowly toward the guards.
At his door, the force team attached irons to his legs and handcuffed him. They took him to the medical-treatment room, where a physician assistant ran tests and weighed the five-foot, eight-inch prisoner at 139 pounds. “Inmate Salameh, will you drink this nutritional supplement voluntarily, by mouth?” the PA asked. Salameh refused. After the ...
by Paul Wright
Prison Legal News has long reported on control units in general and the federal “super max” prisons in particular, first USP Marion in Illinois and then ADX in Florence, Colorado after it opened in 1995. Many of the worst human rights abuses in American prisons occur in segregation units, and the entire concept of a “super max” facility based on total isolation reveals its true nature as a torture center and inherent human rights violation. This month’s cover story, reprinted from The Nation, details the practice of force-feeding prisoners held in solitary confinement units, who are so isolated and silenced that they consider starving themselves to be the only means of protest available.
Just to be clear, the force-feeding of prisoners in the U.S. is a thinly disguised form of torture in itself. That it happens in the secret bowels of the American police state far from public view merely highlights the horrific nature of the abuse to which prisoners denied self-determination are subjected. While the force-feeding of prisoners held at the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp in Cuba received widespread media coverage, the same practice in federal and state prisons has received little attention. [See: ...
On June 25, 2019, Cook County, Illinois finalized a settlement in a lawsuit filed by Prison Legal News, a project of the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), over the censorship of publications mailed to prisoners at the county jail.
In 2016, PLN filed suit in U.S. District Court against Cook County, Sheriff Thomas Dart and Nneka Jones Tapia, executive director of the Cook County Jail. [See: PLN, April 2017, p.33].
The complaint noted the jail had a policy that banned incoming newspapers and newsprint publications, including PLN. The policy was enforced despite a 2015 federal court ruling that held such censorship was unconstitutional. [See: PLN, June 2016, p.40]. Additionally, the jail censored softcover books that PLN had sent to prisoners, including copies of the Prisoners’ Guerilla Handbook to Correspondence Programs in the United States & Canada.
According to the complaint, between March 2015 and June 2016, the Cook County Jail censored at least 112 issues of Prison Legal News and 17 copies of the Prisoners’ Guerilla Handbook. There was “no legitimate penological reason” for censoring PLN; likewise, there was no legitimate reason to censor the Prisoners’ Guerilla Handbook, which is a resource ...
by David M. Reutter
Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County Prison (LCP) paid $30,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging a female pre-trial detainee was strip searched four times over her three-day stay at the facility.
Rebecca Brown was arrested on March 25, 2016 and taken to LCP. She was strip searched upon being booked into the jail and again a short time later. Before she appeared before a judge on March 28 to request that her bench warrant be lifted, she was strip searched a third time. The judge subsequently lifted the warrant and ordered Brown’s release.
Rather than being promptly freed, she was taken back to LCP. Once again, she was strip searched and then had to wait five hours to be released. Her complaint also alleged that she was deprived of a CPAP machine at LCP to treat her sleep apnea.
Brown filed suit in March 2018 alleging violations of her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Her complaint accused LCP guards of intentionally conducting the strip searches “in a manner that was unreasonable and excessive under the circumstances.” It further claimed that Lancaster County had a policy or custom of conducting “unreasonable ‘strip’ searches of persons without justification and after being ...
On June 10, 2019, the Human Rights Defense Center and No Exceptions Prison Collective reported that from 2014 through June 2019, there were twice as many murders in the four Tennessee prisons operated by CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) than in the 10 prisons run by the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC). Also, the homicide rate in CoreCivic facilities was over four times higher than the rate for TDOC prisons. This was despite the fact that during that time period, TDOC facilities held, on average, 70% of the state’s prison population – including prisoners with higher security levels than in CoreCivic prisons.
Those findings were reported during a joint press conference held by HRDC and No Exceptions outside CoreCivic’s headquarters in Nashville. Family members of prisoners who had died at the company’s facilities spoke at the event, which was attended by the local news media.
CoreCivic operates four prisons that house Tennessee state prisoners: the Whiteville Correctional Facility (WCF), South Central Correctional Facility (SCCF), Hardeman County Correctional Facility (HCCF) and Trousdale-Turner Correctional Center (TTCC). TTCC, which opened in 2016, has been criticized in a state audit, during legislative hearings and in news reports. [See: PLN, Feb. 2018, p.46]. The ...
by Ed Lyon
Rodney Ballard served as commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Corrections (DOC) from March 2016 to May 2017. He then abruptly left that job with a $100,000-plus annual salary for the private sector, and was replaced by deputy commissioner Jim Erwin. Erwin began his career with the DOC as a guard in 1995. He was confirmed as full commissioner in May 2018.
During his short tenure as commissioner, Erwin was ordered to terminate two prison guards by Jim Tilley, Secretary of the state’s Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.
Erwin had issues with the findings of the Cabinet’s internal investigative bureau concerning the guards. Saying the findings were unreliable, he refused to comply with the termination order, telling Tilley that “Firing the employees without strong underlying facts would damage the credibility of [employee] disciplinary actions and have a negative impact on morale.” Erwin lodged complaints with human resources staff, too.
In early February 2019, Secretary Tilley issued a termination letter to Erwin and the DOC’s operations director, Chris Kleymeyer. The termination notices stated they were both being fired “without cause.” Erwin has since filed a wrongful termination suit seeking damages for emotional distress plus punitive damages ...
by Brian Dolinar, Truthout
“There were a lot of times my sons tried calling me,” recalled Annette Taylor, who regularly receives calls from her two sons in prison, “but there was no money on the account.” Those were some of the “hardest calls,” she said. “I would worry something was wrong.”
Families of those incarcerated have long complained about the high cost of phone calls from prison. A national campaign pressured the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to intervene in 2015, but the agency’s regulations have since been reversed by the Trump administration.
In Illinois, the price of prison phone calls was just drastically reduced, making it much easier for Taylor and others like her to stay in contact with their loved ones. Just a few years ago, Illinois had the most inflated rates in the country. According to a renegotiated contract, the cost of a call from prison is now just under a penny a minute. Illinois is now the state with the lowest costs in the country.
Taylor’s group, the Ripple Effect (Reaching Into Prisons with Purpose and Love), a prison pen pal project located in Champaign, Illinois, was involved early on in the campaign to reduce ...
by Ed Lyon
Ion scanners were initially installed in prisons in the early 1990s to detect controlled substances on visitors, whose hands and clothes are typically swabbed for testing. But visitors and prison staff who filed lawsuits – in states including New York, Massachusetts and Maryland – claimed they were penalized by false alarms from the machines.
Ion scanners are able to detect trace amounts of illegal substances as low as 0.01 nanograms, or 1/100 billionth of a gram – an amount smaller than a single grain of refined sugar, and completely invisible to the naked eye. The lawsuits claimed that even accidental or incidental contact with drugs – such as touching currency with trace drug residue – could trigger the scanners. The suits also argued the machines could not distinguish whether a trace amount of a substance was used in a legal product or an illegal drug.
While insisting the scanners are technically accurate, Jennifer Verkouteren, a scientist with the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Surface and Trace Chemical Analysis Group, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, admitted they are not perfect at distinguishing compounds used in both illicit drugs and legal products.
by Ed Lyon
Each year, throughout the duration of summer months, there are empathy-invoking news stories about children and pets left in unattended vehicles, sometimes resulting in deaths due to the scorching heat. A New Mexico federal jury recently held that prisoners should not be left in unattended transport vans during hot temperatures, and awarded $2 million in damages.
Isaha Casias, 36, was held by the New Mexico Department of Corrections (DOC) from May 2013 to August 2014. On July 11, 2013, he and several other prisoners from the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Los Lunas boarded a transport van bound for a facility in Hobbs. The van was equipped with air conditioning that required the engine to be on in order for it to work. There was a hole in the back of the vehicle so air could exhaust. As is the case with nearly all prison systems, the van had to make several stops at other facilities en route to Hobbs in order to offload and pick up prisoners. Guards Herman Gonzales and Taracina Morgan were the transport officers on this particular run.
At the first stop, Morgan opened the rear doors so the prisoners ...
by Kevin Bliss
Ralph Caldwell, the father of Michael Kibbons, filed a lawsuit against St. Louis County, Missouri for deliberate indifference to his son’s mental health needs, resulting in his death. The suit alleged that jail staff failed to properly treat and house Kibbons in a manner consistent with his medical history and prescribed medication, leading Kibbons to commit suicide.
Represented by attorneys Gregory G. Fenlon and David A. Perney with the St. Louis Lawyers Group, Caldwell claimed violations of Kibbons’ Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and asked for actual, compensatory and punitive damages.
Kibbons was arrested in June 2015 and booked into the St. Louis County Justice Center as a pretrial detainee. During intake, he reported his history of mental illness, the current medication prescriptions he was taking and his previous suicide attempts, including one at the same jail he was being processed into. The lawsuit also stated that Kibbons had been a previous PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) victim, therefore policy required that he be housed alone and under observation.
Caldwell claimed that Kibbons was denied his medications and put in a cell that already held another occupant, M. Hollenback – a violation of the PREA policy. ...
by Dale Chappell
A report released by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in February 2019 spotlighted several major private equity firms that invest in and profit from the private prison industry, which the organization says continues to fuel mass incarceration in the U.S.
In addition to private equity firms, many other businesses have invested in the prison market, according to Bianca Tylek, founder of an advocacy group called Worth Rises, which has compiled a list of 3,100 companies that profit from the criminal justice system – some with familiar names like Amazon and General Electric.
“We’ve underestimated the size of the prison-industrial complex,” Tylek admitted. “Every estimate you’ve seen until now is a conservative one.”
The involvement of private equity firms, which manage large investment portfolios, presents a conflict between the financial and social goals of some investors.
The two largest for-profit prison companies are Nashville-based CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America – with almost 14,000 employees and gross revenue of $1.83 billion in 2018 – and The GEO Group, based in Boca Raton, Florida, with 22,000 workers and $2.33 billion in revenue last year. Both are publicly traded corporations and their stock has found its way into ...
by Scott Grammer
On August 20, 2018, then-California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 2550, which prohibits male prison guards from going into areas where female prisoners are often undressed, such as showers, medical treatment areas and restrooms, when “there is a female correctional officer who can resolve the situation in a safe and timely manner” without the assistance of male guards.
The bill also requires prison staff of the opposite gender to announce their presence when entering prisoner housing units. Perhaps most importantly, it bans male prison guards from conducting pat-down searches of female prisoners or viewing them when they are not fully dressed. There are exemptions for emergencies when female guards are not available, and when female prisoners are at risk of escape or harming themselves or others.
The bill was introduced by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber. “Women who are incarcerated often have very high rates of past traumatic experiences, with 86% of women in jails and prisons having reported being survivors of past sexual violence and 77% having reported being survivors of partner violence yet in many states male guards can strip search women and supervise them in showers and bathrooms,” Weber said. “This bill ...
by Matt Clarke
On April 5, 2019, Robert Escareno, incarcerated at the California Substance Abuse Treatment and State Prison at Cocoran (SATF), submitted closing arguments in a Superior Court habeas action that alleged the failing roof over the Facility A dining hall allowed the intrusion of water, birds, bird and bat droppings, maggots, mildew and mold, even onto the dining tables while they were in use and on meal trays that were about to be used.
Escareno was represented by attorneys Sara Norman and Camille Woods with the Prison Law Office in Berkeley. The written closing arguments detailed how, after three days of testimony from expert witnesses, prison officials and prisoners, there was no doubt that the damaged roof at SATF represented a serious health hazard to both staff and prisoners.
Escareno’s attorneys noted it was undisputed that the dining hall’s roof membrane was compromised with large holes. That allowed water intrusion, causing many of the ceiling tiles to disintegrate and some to fall into the dining area.
Prisoners testified that mice and maggots had fallen onto tables during meals. Prison officials claimed the prisoners had caused the maggot infestation by stashing food and homemade wine ingredients ...
by Dale Chappell
Officials in Rensselaer County, New York approved a settlement on January 8, 2019 to resolve a federal lawsuit against Sheriff Jack Mahar. Mahar was accused of retaliating against the county’s jail chief, who was fired in 2013 for what the lawsuit claimed was her refusal to follow the sheriff’s orders to take part in the firing of an employee and refusal to shred documents tied to a criminal investigation of the sheriff’s “best friend.”
When Ruth Vibert became the Chief of Corrections and Jail Administratorfor the Rensselaer County Sheriff’s Department in 2012, she was brought in to improve jail conditions following a series of scandals and prisoner abuse incidents. She lasted about a year before the sheriff found a way to terminate her based on “not meeting the educational requirements for her position,” according to her complaint.
The friction between Vibert and the sheriff that led to her firing was her refusal to get in the middle of a domestic dispute between Mahar and another jail employee, and for refusing to shred documents that were part of a criminal investigation into a workplace violence incident with that employee and the sheriff’s best friend, who was a ...
by Scott Grammer
Michael Todd Sabbie, 35, died on July 22, 2015 at the Bi-State Jail, which sits astraddle the border between Texas and Arkansas. He left behind four children. U.S. Magistrate Judge Caroline Craven, in a 169-page 2019 report and recommendation, discussed the extensive record of mismanagement and neglect at the jail, which is operated by LaSalle Corrections, a private company. Sabbie, who was a diabetic, asthmatic and had high blood pressure and heart disease, had been arrested following a verbal dispute with his wife.
He was having medical issues at the jail, but when he said he was experiencing trouble breathing while returning to the facility from court, a guard threw him to the ground. Other guards jumped on top and pepper-sprayed Sabbie in the face. He was taken to the nurse’s office briefly, then placed first in a shower and then back in his cell. He was written up for “creating a disturbance” and “feining [sic] illness and difficulty breathing.”
Sabbie was found dead the next morning. [See: PLN, Aug. 2018, p.24; Dec. 2016, p.43].
Judge Craven’s March 6, 2019 report and recommendation described how guards at the Bi-State Jail were untrained, and how there ...
by Dale Chappell
A recent article in the journal Criminology & Public Policy posed the question of whether private, for-profit companies should be allowed to contract with government agencies to be the sole provider of criminal justice-related services, without public transparency or oversight of the prices or fees set by those companies.
While the focus of privatization in our nation’s corrections system is often on companies that operate prisons and rake in billions of dollars in revenue, another lucrative market exists for businesses that provide other criminal justice services the government would rather farm out. Private companies then effectively become substitutes for public agencies, but are able to hide behind a veil of secrecy that only corporations enjoy.
Parolees, probationers and other people on supervised release typically have numerous court-ordered stipulations they must follow, such as home detention, electronic monitoring, ignition-interlock devices on their vehicles, substance abuse treatment, payment of fines, fees and restitution, and various other requirements.
Private businesses often provide such services, which come at a price – and the parolee, probationer or defendant is usually the one who pays.
For example, in Seattle, Washington, companies install and manage court-ordered ignition interlock devices for DUI offenders. The cost ...
by Anthony W. Accurso
According to news reports, earlier this year the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) banned prisoners from receiving Chokehold: Policing Black Men, a 2017 book critical of the criminal justice system.
The author, former federal prosecutor and Georgetown University professor Paul Butler, explored the history and implications of mass incarceration’s links to racism in Chokehold; he advocated for prison abolition while providing practical advice for black men “caught in [the] maws” of the justice system.
It was unclear how prison officials had justified the ban, but the ADC claimed that “allowing prisoners to read the book would be detrimental to the safe, secure, and orderly operation of its prisons,” according to an article published by the ACLU on May 16, 2019. The ACLU noted that nothing in the book could remotely be considered dangerous, and Butler specifically advocated against the use of violence.
“I disavow violence because first, I think it’s immoral, and second, because it wouldn’t work,” he said. “I’ve received letters from several inmates who have read Chokehold while they are serving time. No one has indicated that reading Chokehold has caused any problems in prison.”
“In order for [the ADC] ...
by Scott Grammer
In August 1976, a lawsuit was filed in a Florida federal district court alleging numerous constitutional violations at the Broward County jail, including overcrowding. Two years later the case was certified as a class action. It took until 1994 for a consent decree to be reached, then in 1996 the sheriff and the county unsuccessfully moved to terminate the decree. In 2001, the Cloney & Malloy law firm, counsel for the class members, asked the ACLU’s National Prison Project (NPP) to join as co-counsel, which it did. The district court then appointed expert witness Stephen J. Martin to review conditions at the Broward County jail.
Martin, along with Steven S. Spencer, M.D. and Jeffrey L. Metzner, M.D., inspected the facility three times though 2004, then issued reports. That year, the parties entered into two stipulations for settlement which dismissed the medical claims in the suit and reduced the oversight, inspection and monitoring of the jail to operations and conditions related to mental health services; the safety, security and discipline of prisoners; rules applying to prisoners; and prisoner access to religious publications and services as well as legal materials. The stipulations also provided that Martin and Dr. Metzner ...
by Kevin W. Bliss
In February 2019, Polk County, Iowa District Court Judge Scott Rosenberg denied the state’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by prisoners at the Anamosa State Penitentiary (ASP) challenging the Iowa Department of Corrections’ (IDOC) denial of access to publications that feature nudity.
Pro se plaintiff Jack Leonard Hays and 11 other prisoners at ASP sued over a law enacted by the state legislature in 2018. The statute, Section 904.310A, was crafted using language modeled after a federal law regulating sexually explicit material in the Bureau of Prisons, known as the Ensign Amendment. [See: PLN, March 1997, p.11]. The statute states that “funds made available to the department shall not be used to distribute or make available any commercially published information or material to an inmate when such information or material is sexually explicit or features nudity.”
The complaint filed by the ASP prisoners alleges that this definition is so broad and sweeping as to include constitutionally protected speech, including publications related to art, literature and even medical journals. It also states the plaintiffs believe the legislation encouraged the IDOC to confiscate property already in the possession of prisoners, including property that was purchased ...
by Kevin W. Bliss
Richard Wright and April Wedding were awarded $10,000 each as representatives in a class-action suit filed against Ocean County, New Jersey for its practice of strip searching everyone booked into the Ocean County Correctional Facility (OCCF), including arrestees held on non-indictable offenses such as traffic violations, contempt of court, civil violations, failures to appear or misdemeanors.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs, Carl D. Poplar and William Riback, argued that OCCF’s strip search policy violated the Fourth Amendment, the New Jersey Constitution and New Jersey statutes. They filed suit against the Ocean County Department of Corrections, Warden Theodore J. Hutler and Chief Sandra Mueller for maintaining a policy of blanket strip searches for incoming detainees. They requested certification of a class that consisted of any person in the custody of OCCF between November 28, 2005 and December 28, 2007, held on a non-indictable offense, who was strip searched during the booking process.
Wright was searched after he turned himself in for an open child support warrant in October 2007. Wedding was arrested in August 2007 for failure to pay a traffic fine, and strip searched at the jail. Another plaintiff, Edward Bizzarro, was searched following his arrest in ...
by Douglas Ankney
“When you can’t read, you see no other way out,” said actor Ameer Baraka. “As a kid, I used to ask God to make me a drug dealer, because I knew in order to be someone in life you have to learn to read, and I couldn’t.” In grade school, Baraka had a miserable time. Whenever the teacher asked him to read aloud, his classmates would laugh because he couldn’t make out the words.
Spelling tests were on Fridays, and Baraka skipped school to hide in the hallways of the housing project where he lived. By the sixth grade, he was fed up; he decided to drop out and start selling cocaine. At age 23, he was in prison for a drug offense. But after being diagnosed with dyslexia and finally earning his GED, he said, “I started viewing myself in a different way. When I learned to read, it freed me.”
No national studies have been conducted regarding the prevalence of dyslexia among prisoners, but a study of Texas prisoners in 2000 found that 48 percent were dyslexic and two-thirds struggled with reading comprehension. A 2014 study by the Department of Education found that about ...
by David M. Reutter
The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania awarded $118,458.37 in attorney fees in a public records suit brought by Uniontown Newspapers. The award followed the court’s finding that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PDOC) had acted in “bad faith” by not producing the requested records.
Reporter Christine Haines with the Herald-Standard in Uniontown was investigating the potential effects of a coal fly ash dump on the health of prisoners at a nearby prison. In 2014, she requested records concerning prisoners’ medical conditions. The PDOC refused to provide the documents, arguing they were exempt under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law. The newspaper successfully appealed to the state Office of Open Records; prison officials then produced 15 pages of charts that showed how many prisoners suffered from various illnesses and how many had died from cancer. Not convinced it had received all the requested records, the Herald-Standard filed suit alleging prison officials had acted in “bad faith.”
After four years of litigation and a trial, in March 2018 the Commonwealth Court held the PDOC “did not make a good faith effort” to determine if it possessed or had access to all of the requested records. “An agency’s failure to locate responsive records ...
by David M. Reutter
“In order for the criminal justice system to stand, justice must be completely just,” Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas Judge Leon Tucker wrote in an order granting former death row prisoner and PLN columnist Mumia Abu-Jamal an opportunity to appeal his 1981 conviction for killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.
Abu-Jamal, 64, an award-winning journalist, has maintained his innocence since he was arrested. In 2011, his death sentence was overturned based on erroneous jury instructions and he was resentenced to life without parole. Abu-Jamal and his large base of supporters have continued their decades-long fight to exonerate him – or at least to obtain a fair trial.
The latest attempt focused on Ronald D. Castille, former Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, who had ruled on a number of Abu-Jamal’s appeals between 1998 and 2012. Castille had served as Philadelphia’s district attorney from 1986 to 1991.
“There is no evidence that Justice Castille was directly involved in the case as a prosecutor,” Tucker wrote in his December 28, 2018 order, “but it would be difficult for a judge in his position not to view a case being reviewed on appeal that was handled ...
by David M. Reutter
A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit claiming a female prisoner at Pennsylvania’s Lackawanna County Prison (LCP) was “repeatedly sexually harassed and assaulted by numerous corrections officers over the course of a decade.” The suit alleged a “culture acquiescing to the sexual harassment and sexual abuse” of female prisoners at the facility.
The case was brought by Shannon Marie Parchinski, who said as far back as 2002, LCP had received reports of female prisoners being sexually harassed, assaulted and raped. Her complaint accused LCP administrators of being aware that guards Joseph Shnipes, Joseph Black and Lt. Verne Dittfield had engaged in sexual abuse and misconduct. Black worked at LCP until 2011; he was subsequently convicted of sexually assaulting five female prisoners, and received four to eight years in prison. [See: PLN, Dec. 2018, p.26].
Prisoners who were sexually abused by Dittfield were known by other prison staff members as “Daddy Dittfield’s Girls.” Parchinski’s lawsuit listed two dozen female prisoners who had been sexually assaulted by 10 different guards.
Parchinski alleged she was sexually harassed by Shnipes and forced to manually stimulate Black. She also had sexual intercourse with guard Jeff Staff once while she ...
by Chad Marks
After two unidentified prisoners complained that they were being punished based on faulty drug test results, the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) made changes to its testing policies.
One prisoner was subjected to a drug test in September 2018. He had been admitted to the prison in July and contended that a positive drug test for THC was a result of using marijuana not while in prison but prior to his incarceration. DOC officials rejected that reasoning and denied him work release; they also confined him to his cell for 30 days, took 30 days of his good conduct time and transferred him to another facility three hours away from his pregnant fiancée.
The prisoner filed a complaint with Washington’s Office of Corrections Ombuds, which was established to investigate issues involving state prisons. The Ombuds then began reviewing the DOC’s drug testing policies. Another prisoner also filed a complaint with the Ombuds office, alleging he was cited for a positive drug test that was erroneous.
The second prisoner had a history of positive drug test results due to his prescribed medications. He passed a random drug test in November 2018, but not long after that result he ...
by Matt Clarke
For 17 years, Correctional Managed Health Care (CMHC), part of the University of Connecticut, held a no-bid contract – worth $100 million annually – to provide medical services for around 13,400 prisoners incarcerated in 14 Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC) facilities.
But in 2016, the DOC flagged 25 prisoner medical cases that went horribly wrong, resulting in the deaths of eight prisoners. That persuaded state Senators Heather Somers and Michael McLachlan to call for a July 2018 hearing to investigate CMHC’s healthcare services. It also prompted the DOC to discontinue its contract with CMHC and begin providing medical care directly to prisoners in August 2018.
The testimony before the legislature shocked even tough-on-crime state Rep. William Petit, a pediatrician who was the sole survivor of a 2007 home invasion during which two ex-prisoners murdered his wife and daughter. Petit and other lawmakers were moved by testimony from family members of prisoners who received inadequate medical care, including:
• Michael O’Shea, 71, who was two months into a 120-day sentence for DWI when he died from an untreated illness in August 2011.
• Wayne World, paroled at age 39 in 2016 after his subcutaneous lymphoma had ...
by Scott Grammer
In May 2018, federal authorities, including the FBI and DEA, in conjunction with California state prison officials and local police, arrested 32 people on charges related to the Mexican Mafia’s operation of a massive crime ring in Los Angeles County’s jail system. Approximately three dozen prisoners also were charged, while others had yet to be apprehended.
A total of 83 people were named in two federal indictments. One was attorney Gabriel Zendejas-Chavez, who allegedly misused his attorney-client privilege to conceal messages that he carried in and out of the jails to gang members, including orders to kill someone.
According to the indictments, the gang members and their collaborators smuggled drugs into the jails, created fraudulent phone accounts, communicated information between prisoners, carried out assaults, and “taxed” and fined those who disobeyed the gang’s rules. Some gang members would allegedly commit low-level crimes in order to be arrested and jailed, giving them an opportunity to smuggle in contraband. Other prisoners who wanted to sell drugs were required to wait until the Mexican Mafia’s supply ran out, then were required to give up a third of their drugs and other contraband to the gang. This “tax” of ...
by Chad Marks
Patrick J. Haight, 53, was being held at the Erie County Prison in Pennsylvania on a $500 bond for driving under the influence when he was viciously beaten by guards.
On May 10, 2017, Haight injured his toe and was taken to the infirmary for treatment. The guards who escorted him back to his housing unit began beating and pepper spraying him. Before long, Haight was taken to an isolated shower area and then a gym, where the guards commenced to beat him some more, punching and kicking him while he was handcuffed. Once on the ground, an off-duty guard kicked him in the head. The incident was caught on video.
Haight did not receive medical care following the savage beating; instead, he was put in solitary confinement. He said he was taken to a hospital and placed on life support for 15 days as a result of his injuries stemming from the assault, which included “strokes, kidney failure, collapsed or punctured lung, torn or restricted carotid arteries, acute closed head injuries, broken ribs, ruptured eye socket and numerous cuts and abrasions.”
Prison guard Corey A. Cornelius, 34, who had allegedly kicked or tried to kick ...
by Douglas Ankney
A New York Court of Claims held the state was 100% responsible for a prisoner-on-prisoner assault that resulted in severe injuries, and awarded $655,000 in damages.
Perez Aughtry, 37, testified that around noon on July 27, 2012, he had finished showering and was drying off near the front gate of the bathhouse at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility. Guard Evergreen Wright was usually positioned nearby, but he wasn’t there at the time. Aughtry said when he bent over to dry his feet, a group of prisoners grabbed him and started punching, kicking and slashing him.
He was cut across his back and face, and screamed for help. After several minutes, the assailants released him and ran toward the back of the bathhouse. Then another prisoner, Terry Daum, arrived and handed Aughtry a towel to help stop the bleeding. Wright finally showed up, and Aughtry walked to the infirmary while bleeding profusely. He was taken to a hospital with “life threatening” injuries and received 91 sutures.
Aughtry testified that he experienced a great amount of pain, began having migraines, and his jaw started locking up due to a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) injury and nerve damage. The scars from ...
by David M. Reutter
A $30,000 settlement was reached in a lawsuit alleging that guards at the Clinton County Correctional Facility (CCCF) in McElhattan, Pennsylvania used excessive force on a pretrial detainee. The suit also claimed that medical staff failed to treat him for his injuries.
Joel R. Snider was at CCCF awaiting disposition of a murder charge; he subsequently pleaded guilty but mentally ill, and received a 30-to-60-year sentence. Prior to entering the jail, he had been diagnosed with serious mental illness, depression and chronic paranoid schizophrenia. Snider regularly heard voices and experienced delusions despite repeated increases to his medication.
His mental condition resulted in frequent behavioral problems. Snider’s complaint alleged that CCCF staff failed to take his “disability into consideration or provide him any accommodations during the disciplinary process.”
The lawsuit alleged two different incidents of excessive force. The first occurred on February 28, 2013. Snider complained to a lieutenant that several guards were stealing his religious material and one was harassing him. The lieutenant said he would take care of it, and “resolved” the issue by having a disciplinary report written against Snider.
That necessitated a move to “the hole.” While being taken to segregation, guards “tackled” ...
by Ed Lyon
From February 2015 to January 2016, Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York (PLS) made a series of records requests to the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). The requests were made under the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), and included prisoner behavior reports, use of force reports and unusual incident reports.
The DOCCS complied, but redacted the names of all prison guards in the reports. PLS sought an administrative review of the redactions. Prison officials then provided additional documents, also redacting the prison guards’ names. The DOCCS argued that records including guards’ names fell under the personnel records exception provided under the FOIL statute.
PLS filed suit in New York’s Supreme Court, challenging the redactions. The organization contended that the redacted records were not personnel records pursuant to § 87(2) of the Public Officers Law and § 50-a(l) of the Civil Rights Law. The trial court ruled in favor of the DOCCS and dismissed the petition.
On appeal, prison officials argued an opposite approach to § 50-a(l) of the Civil Rights Law and § 87(2) of the Public Officers Law, seeking to maintain the status quo. The appellate court ...
by Matt Clarke
A former Colorado jail prisoner whose medical bills exceeded $2 million filed a lawsuit alleging a private health care provider at the jail denied him treatment until guards overruled them and transported him to a hospital. He was then airlifted to a Denver medical center where he nearly died.
Jeremy Laintz was booked into the Pueblo County Detention Center in October 2016. He began having health problems soon after arriving while he was still a pretrial detainee. Eventually, he pleaded guilty to violating a protective order and was ordered to serve 90 days concurrent with a prior sentence for drug possession.
According to court documents filed by Laintz’s attorneys, Anna Holland Edwards and Erica Grossman, who have successfully represented prisoners in other cases, the jail was “a trainwreck.”
“It’s so overcrowded there,” they wrote, “... the jail is built to hold 509 people, and it’s most efficient when it’s at about 80 percent capacity. But during the first six months of last year, the average number of inmates was 777.” They added, “the facility is breaking down. It’s filthy. There are bugs coming out of the drains. It’s a really bad place.”
Soon after ...
by Douglas Ankney
A lack of basic respect for female employees, as well as any notion of appropriate workplace behavior, continues to plague state agencies in Missouri, most notably the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC). And the cost to taxpayers is staggering. Lawsuits against the state, including those over sexual harassment, cost taxpayers at least $23 million in 2017 alone.
In December 2018, Missouri officials agreed to pay $600,000 to settle a claim filed by former prison caseworker Jennifer LaFleur, with $297,607 going to LaFleur and the remainder to her attorney.
While working for the DOC, LaFleur experienced sexual harassment by her male co-workers at the Western Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center and the Kansas City Re-Entry Center. The harassment included comments that her uniform was tight and “you can see her assets”; being called a “c*nt” on an ongoing basis; being asked to give blow jobs in the control room; being told by her supervisor that he was renting a hotel room so she and another female worker could have a threesome with him; and being told her “boobs look really nice in that shirt.”
After LaFleur filed a complaint with the warden, she was subjected to retaliation. Among ...
by David M. Reutter
A Tennessee federal district court has held the Hamblen County Sheriff’s Department and Sheriff Esco Jarnagin can be held liable for the sexual assault of a pretrial detainee. The ruling was based on long-standing deficient conditions at the Hamblen County Jail (HCJ).
The Tennessee Corrections Institute conducts annual inspections of local jails in the state. The inspection reports for HCJ from 2010 to 2017 revealed “a number of deficiencies including overcrowding, insufficient security checks, inadequate checks, inadequate staffing, difficulty with properly classifying inmates, failure to provide information about reporting sexual assault to inmates, and many incidents of inmate-on-inmate assault,” the district court noted. The Tennessee Corrections Institute recommended that HCJ be decertified for failing to meet minimum jail standards.
Following an arrest for the manufacture, delivery, sale or possession of methamphetamine, Zackery Beck was booked into HCJ on October 4, 2016. While a guard was escorting him to a cell, another prisoner warned the guard not to put Beck in “little Mexico,” because it would be “bad for him.” Nonetheless, Beck was placed in an area of the jail known as “the slams,” which has four-bed cells.
While there, two of Beck’s cellmates, in conjunction with ...
by Douglas Ankney
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed a district court’s order denying a blind prisoner’s motion to appoint counsel.
James V. Pennewell was blind in his left eye due to retinal detachment when he began serving a prison sentence on February 3, 2015 at the Dodge Correctional Institution in Wisconsin. Eight days later, he informed the optometrist at the facility that he was experiencing symptoms in his right eye similar to those he had when he lost vision in his left eye.
Dr. James Richter referred Pennewell to the University of Wisconsin Eye Clinic, but failed to follow up. On March 17, 2015, Pennewell was transferred to the John Burke Correctional Center, where he informed a nurse about his vision problems. After repeated complaints of symptoms of retinal detachment, he was taken to Waupun Memorial Hospital’s emergency room on April 7, 2015. He was then immediately transferred to another hospital where he underwent emergency surgery; several months later, a second surgery was performed that resulted in several weeks of blindness. Pennewell never recovered sight in his right eye and is now legally blind.
In 2017 he filed a § 1983 complaint, in forma ...
by Douglas Ankney
Navy Rear Admiral John Ring, commander of the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, commonly known as GITMO, was relieved of his position on April 27, 2019. Admiral Craig Faller, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, met with Ring and informed him that he was being fired for loss of confidence in his ability to command.
Colonel Amanda Azubuike, spokeswoman for the Southern Command, said Ring’s dismissal had nothing to do with a recent media visit that he had hosted, but that he was fired after a month-long investigation. The media visit resulted in a feature article published by The New York Times.
“The vast majority of commanders complete their assigned tours with distinction,” Azubuike said. “When they fall short, we hold our leaders accountable, which reflects the importance we place on the public’s trust and confidence in our military leaders.”
Ring’s deputy, Brigadier General John F. Hussey, is now acting commander at the Guantanamo prison. He is responsible for 40 prisoners and a staff of 1,800, including civilian employees and military personnel. A statement from the Southern Command said the leadership change “will not interrupt the safe, humane, legal care and custody provided to the ...
by David M. Reutter
The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) agreed to pay $1.1 million to settle a lawsuit alleging parole officer Shannon Woods was subjected to sexual harassment and a hostile work environment for complaining about the harassment.
Her suit alleged that immediately after being hired as a parole officer in April 2011 in the MDOC’s Lawton Parole Office, she was subjected to a “sexually hostile work environment by co-worker Ryan Johnson.” Johnson asked Woods “incessantly to go to lunch, dinner, and drinks,” which she refused.
The complaint also alleged that Johnson rubbed Woods’ shoulders at work in a sexual manner and forcibly kissed her, and that he would come to Woods’ “desk and sit on her desk with his genitals bulging through his crotch and near her.” In November 2013, Johnson “took out his penis and placed it on top of a wine bottle, took a picture of it, and then texted it to Ms. Wood and asked her ‘did she like the picture.’”
Woods reported the conduct to her immediate supervisor, Monica Burton, but the abuse continued. After Woods filed a formal complaint with the MDOC, she was ostracized, retaliated against and labeled a “snitch” ...
by Ed Lyon
It is estimated that around 20 percent of prisoners have a serious mental health condition, and due to the criminalization of mental illness in the United States, the mentally ill are more likely to end up behind bars than in a psychiatric facility.
The tiny city of Willits is located in Mendocino County, California. Despite its small size, the city’s police department has adopted modern, humane policies concerning people with mental health problems. Rather than jailing someone who is having a psychotic episode, police officers are required to take them to a hospital. However, the mental health facility in Mendocino County had closed, and when officers had to take mentally ill patients into custody, they were required to transport them to the next county and wait through the admittance process.
On the evening of June 11, 2014, Willits police officers Kevin Leef and Jeff Andrade apparently felt it would be less trouble to jail Stephen Neuroth on false charges instead of taking him to the adjoining county’s mental health center. The two cops encountered Neuroth, who was having a mental health crisis, about 10:00 p.m. He was wandering in and out of traffic, dodging snakes that ...
by Douglas Ankney
On February 27, 2019, the State of Hawaii and a prison medical contractor agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by Helen Coma, the mother of 32-year-old Jonathan Ibana.
Ibana, incarcerated at the Halawa Correctional Facility (HCF), killed himself on March 11, 2013 – six days after he reported being raped by his cellmate. He covered the window of his cell with toilet paper marked with the words “using toilet.” Guards later discovered that he had used his bed sheet to hang himself.
Ibana, who had a history of suicide attempts, suffered from an intellectual disability, bipolar disorder, severe depression and hallucinations, and was diagnosed as schizophrenic. Because he had attempted suicide at age 16, he was identified as a suicide risk when he was sent to prison in 2001. He claimed “spirits” were going to kill him by ramming his head against the wall. Over the next few years he was observed tying elastic around his neck and banging his head against a wall. He repeatedly warned he was going to kill himself.
By June 2010, Ibana had attempted suicide 15 times. He also was raped by other prisoners twice in 2007, ...
by Ed Lyon
On March 31, 2018, two female detainees at a jail in Contra Costa County, California decided to play a dangerous game and began a flirtation with male guard Patrick Morseman. Early that day, the women passed a note to Morseman, 26, that he understood to be an “invitation” to have sex with them. The two prisoners later had a lengthy conversation with Morseman during out-of-cell dayroom time in their jail module.
Morseman, like all guards, had been specifically trained and warned not to have sexual contact with prisoners. That day, his partner, who had witnessed his inappropriate interactions with the pair of prisoners, identified as Jane Does 1 and 2, spoke with him about it and reminded him about the security cameras at the facility.
Morseman continued flirting with the prisoners, heedless of his partner’s warnings, his job training and a document he had signed which explicitly signified his understanding that he was not to have sexual contact with detainees.
Setting the stage for what was to come later, Morseman violated jail rules by allowing the female prisoners to “hang out” together in a cell after dayroom time was over. Around 2:00 a.m., Morseman entered ...
by Dale Chappell
Despite millions of dollars in grant money to reduce the population at Washington State’s Spokane County jail, the sheriff and police chief say the county requires a newer and larger facility to hold an ever-increasing number of prisoners.
The need for more jail beds in Spokane is nothing new. In 1967, voters approved the replacement of the 70-year-old, overcrowded county jail facilities, also combining the city’s detention center into a new city-county jail. The $7 million Public Safety Building opened next door to the courthouse in 1970.
Within five years, however, the jail reached capacity with an average population of 355 prisoners, taking only half the time predicted by county officials. Operational costs nearly doubled, from $600,000 in 1971 to $1 million in 1976. The county decided to build another, larger facility, unveiling plans for Spokane’s current six-story jail in 1982. The 460-bed facility was completed in 1986 at a cost of $22 million. With a new design that allowed prisoners more out-of-cell time, there was a sharp reduction in the number of assaults.
Nine years later, though, the jail held an average population of 555. Voters approved a temporary sales tax increase to retrofit a ...
by Kevin W. Bliss
After Florida Senate President Joe Negron stepped down from his office in the legislature, he was immediately hired by the same private prison company that he helped secure $6.9 million in state funding over the past two years.
The Boca Raton-based GEO Group announced on November 29, 2018 that Negron would fill retired John Bulfin’s post as the company’s general counsel, a position that pays $400,000 annually for a “continuous ‘rolling’ two-year term” with renewal options for up to the next 10 years, according to an SEC filing. Bulfin’s annual salary was over $500,000 and he had an overall compensation package of $2.5 million. When asked what Negron’s compensation package would be, GEO spokesman Pablo Paez refused to comment.
GEO Group had supported Negron and the senate committees he controlled since 2013, making more than $300,000 in political contributions. In addition, financial records show the company donated over $100,000 to Negron’s wife, Rebecca, and to Conservative Congress Now! – a super PAC that supported her failed 2016 congressional bid.
GEO Group operates five of Florida’s seven private prisons, for which the current state budget – which Negron had a hand in shaping – included a $4 ...
The Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC) has agreed to pay a $1,500 settlement in a lawsuit filed by state prisoner Jeremy Barney, who alleged his First Amendment right to receive publications was violated when the warden at Osborn Correctional Institution implemented a policy that prohibited prisoners from receiving calendars.
In his complaint, Barney claimed that on March 1, 2017, guard Eric Hart brought him a rejection notice for his Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell Fantasy Art Calendar, which had been ordered by his sister through a commonly used book distributor. When asked for a reason for the rejection, Hart explained the warden had banned all calendars.
Barney wrote to Warden Edward Maldonado that a ban on receiving calendars “violates the reasonable relationship standard set by the Turner v. Safley decision.” The warden responded that “all items have to be purchased through the commissary.”
Although Barney repeatedly informed prison officials that no calendars were sold on the commissary and that prisoners have a First Amendment right to receive publications, including calendars, his appeals were rejected at every stage of the grievance process.
After exhausting his administrative remedies, Barney filed a § 1983 civil rights complaint in state court on June 20, ...
by Scott Grammer
Oumer Salim, a resident of Colleyville, Texas, wanted to communicate with his brother, who was in an Ohio state prison. The facility used JPay for video calling, at a cost of $9.90 for each 30-minute session. So Salim began using the system. He noticed a recurring problem, however – the video calls consistently cut off before the 30 minutes were up. After that happened around 30 times, Salim, represented by Dallas attorney Bruce W. Steckler, filed a class-action lawsuit in federal district court on October 12, 2018.
According to his suit, “complaints from around the country indicate families and friends of inmates consistently complain that video sessions do not last the entire 30 minutes session.” The total amount of damages was estimated to be in excess of $5,000,000.
The complaint alleged that “JPay intentionally manipulates the 30-minute session to provide less than 30 minutes of video time; ... JPay engaged in unlawful unfair methods of competition, unconscionable acts or practices, and unfair or deceptive acts or practices; ... JPay breached its contracts with Plaintiff and the Class; ... JPay breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing with Plaintiff and the Class; ... JPay ...
Hawaii has long been considered a tropical paradise, but those who run afoul of the law on the islands stand a good chance of being exiled. Over a third of Hawaii’s prisoners are shipped to a privately-operated facility in Arizona to serve the majority of their sentences.
Critics have charged that separating prisoners from their families risks the possibility of increased recidivism, but the issue that has grabbed headlines is the cost. Tickets for chartered flights from Honolulu to the Saguaro Correctional Center, operated by CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) jumped from around $1,300 each in 2016 to $1,800 in 2018. The transportation costs totaled about $2.2 million, in addition to the $45 million per year to house prisoners at Saguaro.
Overcrowding in Hawaii’s eight detention centers has left state lawmakers with few good options. The prison system’s 3,500 beds have been holding nearly 5,400 – a situation that has forced double- or triple-occupancy of single-man cells, with some prisoners having to sleep on the floor.
A complaint filed by the ACLU in 2017 demanded that action be taken to alleviate the overcrowded conditions, but the legislature balked at the potential $2 billion price tag for refurbishing ...
by Chad Marks
After more than 23,000 packages containing drugs and cell phones were seized in UK prisons in 2018 – compared to just 4,000 the year before – officials with Her Majesty’s Prison Service decided to use new facial recognition and document-scanning technology on visitors at three prisons – HMP Hull, HMP Humber and HMP Lindholme – in an attempt to thwart contraband smuggling.
Ministry of Justice Secretary David Gauke called the new technologies “vital” to the prison system’s “fight against the gangs that seek to cause chaos in prisons.” Some UK facilities were already using fingerprint and document identity checks, but they were slow because they were paper-based, so they couldn’t timely track people making visits to multiple prisons on the same day or during the same week.
For six weeks between December 2018 and January 2019, prison staff used a British-manufactured biometric technology called Freewatch at HMP Humber, a men’s prison, scanning some 770 visitors’ faces. At HMP Lindholme, another men’s prison, iris-scanning technology created by Tascent, an American firm, was used. IDScan, another British product that detects false documents, was employed at HMP Hull, which is a pre-trial detention facility for men.
The Ministry ...
by Ed Lyon
Corizon Health, headquartered in Brentwood, Tennessee, is the nation’s largest private prison and jail healthcare provider. The company has, for many years, been mentioned in Prison Legal News – usually in connection with misconduct by Corizon employees, grossly inadequate medical care and lawsuits resulting in verdicts and settlements. [See, e.g.: PLN, Nov. 2018, p.60; Feb. 2017, p.32, 56; Sept. 2013, p.47].
Since 2017, Arizona state prisoner Arron Shawn Bossardet has been pursuing a lawsuit against Arizona DOC director Charles Ryan and Corizon employees concerning medical-related issues. He is represented by Phoenix attorney Stacy Scheff. On February 19, 2019, Scheff filed a motion seeking sanctions against the defendants for a plethora of discovery violations. She then followed up in March 2019, asking the federal district court to appoint an expert witness.
Scheff took the defendants to task for allowing Bossardet to be transferred from an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant prison to a non-compliant facility. She also pointed out that many documents obtained in discovery did not agree with each other and many of the documents that were automatically required to be disclosed were missing or omitted. Some of the inconsistent records did not ...
by David M. Reutter
Florida’s Broward County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) has paid $185,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging a jailer assaulted a pretrial detainee.
Audra West was booked into the North Broward Detention Facility on April 2, 2014 for disorderly intoxication, trespass and resisting arrest without violence. While sitting in a waiting area during processing, West asked guard Kristen Connelly for a sanitary pad or tampon because she was having her menstrual period and blood was dripping down her legs.
Connelly told her to ask nicely, but after West said please, the guard told her she was not getting the sanitary product, stating that since West had entered the jail she had displayed an attitude toward her. West said under her breath, “Fuck you.” Connelly heard the remark and asked West to repeat it. She complied.
In response, Connelly came around the desk area and guard Henry Lawrence, anticipating she was going to act violently, warned her not to take action. Connelly, however, was seen on video hitting West twice in the face. She then grabbed West and started “swinging her back and forth,” a witness said. The video was publicly released in June 2015. [See: PLN, Nov. ...
by Matt Clarke
Instead of being “The Man in the Iron Mask,” federal prisoner Thomas “Tommy” Silverstein spent decades in prison as the man in a concrete box. On May 11, 2019, he was released from that confinement in the only way it seemed possible – by his death, which occurred at an outside hospital, reportedly due to complications related to heart surgery, at age 67.
Silverstein had been imprisoned at the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum (ADX) in Florence, Colorado, the highest-security facility in the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).
Silverstein was 23 when he was sentenced to 15 years for three bank robberies. His charge partners were his father and cousin. Three years later, he was convicted of killing another prisoner, Danny Atwell, who had gotten crossways with the Aryan Brotherhood (AB), a white-supremacist prison gang. That led him to be confirmed as a member of the AB; he was convicted and sentenced to life, then transferred to USP Marion in Illinois – the highest-security federal prison at the time. That conviction was later overturned due to perjury by informants who had testified against him; however, in the meantime he was convicted of killing Robert Chappelle, ...
by Kevin W. Bliss
An investigation by the Detroit Free Press into the Michigan Department of Corrections’ (MDOC) reporting of prisoner deaths revealed major discrepancies.
Since 2013, the total number of deaths reported by the MDOC to the U.S. Department of Justice differed from the total reported to the state legislature. In addition, 2018 had the highest death rate in the MDOC since 1994, yet the legislature was not initially made aware of that spike due to policy changes regarding which deaths were included in a “critical incident” report.
In October 2018, the Free Press contacted MDOC spokesperson Chris Gautz and asked how many prisoner deaths had occurred thus far that year at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility (WHV), which was already under scrutiny for a scabies outbreak, overcrowding, leaky roofs, mold buildup and poor health care. [See: PLN, June 2019, p.32; April 2019, p.58].
Gautz stated that WHV had experienced five deaths as of October 2018. However, Carol Jacobsen, a professor at the University of Michigan and director of the Michigan Women’s Justice and Clemency Project, informed the Free Press of four other deaths at WHV that year. On May 1, 2019, Gautz confirmed the ...
by Douglas Ankney
A federal district court in the Western District of Virginia held that a prisoner who alleged he was beaten after a jail guard informed other prisoners of his sex offender status had stated an Eighth Amendment claim.
John E. Lonewolf arrived at the Rockbridge Regional Jail (RRJ) on October 30, 2012 after being convicted of a drug-related offense. When Sergeant Steve Garrett booked Lonewolf into the facility, he used his birth name of Earl William Giger. Sgt. Garrett was aware that Lonewolf had been convicted in 1991 of aggravated sexual assault of a child.
Garrett then mentioned, in the presence of two other prisoners, that Lonewolf was a sex offender. The sergeant escorted Lonewolf to a cellblock that was shared with several prisoners, including Joel Copper. At about 8 p.m., Copper entered Lonewolf’s cell and brutally beat him, calling him by the name “Giger.” Lonewolf suffered multiple injuries to his left eye, left ocular ridge, left parietal skull, mandible, palate, spleen, two ribs, left lung and intestines. He filed suit in federal court under § 1983, alleging Sgt. Garrett had failed to protect him from harm.
At an evidentiary hearing, Copper testified that he informed Garrett in ...
by Ed Lyon
In 2018, almost half of California’s 50 prison escapees walked away from early-release programs where they were finishing their sentences – more than double the number of “walkaways” in 2014, the first year the programs were established. While the number represents only a tiny fraction of the 126,000 prisoners held by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), victims’ rights groups have voiced concerns.
“Oh my gosh, that’s a lot,” Christine Ward, director of the Crime Victims Action Alliance, said of the number of walkaways.
Early-release program guidelines exclude known gang members, sex offenders and prisoners who pose a risk of violence. But according to a review of CDCR data by the Associated Press, some of the walkaways in 2018 had been convicted of weapons offenses – including one for armed attempted carjacking and another for injuring a spouse – as well as robberies, false imprisonment with violence and extortion using force or threat.
“They are letting the people out that shouldn’t be out,” warned Crime Victims United of California founder Harriet Salarno.
“When you’re talking about second-degree robbery or felons who are desperate, what do desperate people do?” wondered Ward.
The CDCR “takes the ...
by Chad Marks
In April 2014, then-Sheriff James “J.J.” Jones implemented a video visitation system at the Knox County, Tennessee jail through a contract with Securus Technologies. The video system coincided with the elimination of in-person visits between prisoners and their family members.
Remote video visitation costs $5.99 per half-hour. Prisoners’ families and friends can visit for free once a week if they reserve a kiosk at the downtown jail. Securus also provides tablets that prisoners can use to access a closed server that is not directly connected to the Internet, at a cost of $4.99 per day for a “gold pass.” Prisoners must use the tablets to access law library resources. Securus pays a “commission” kickback of 50% of the revenue it receives to Knox County. [See: PLN, Oct. 2018, p.23].
The lawsuit contends that the ban on in-person visits violates the prisoners’ rights under the First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Some of the claims raised in the class-action suit are that the video system malfunctions and leaves prisoners staring at blank screens. When that happens, the $5.99 fee is not refunded to the visitor. At other times, the video visits end before the allotted time expires.
by Chad Marks
On February 1, 2019, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of lawsuits filed by current and former California prisoners who alleged that state prison officials had violated their Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment by exposing them to a known heightened risk of contracting valley fever – a dangerous infection spread by fungal spores, also known as coccidioidomycosis.
In 2005, California prison officials began noticing a “significant increase” in the number of prisoners contracting valley fever in the San Joaquin area. In response, the court-appointed federal Receiver over prison medical care asked the California Department of Health Services to investigate the outbreak at Pleasant Valley State Prison – the facility with the highest infection rate. That investigation showed the infection rate was 38 times higher than in the nearby town and 600 times higher than in the surrounding county. It also revealed the rate of African Americans contracting the disease was higher than for other racial groups; prisoners with compromised immune systems were at greater risk, too. [See: PLN, Aug. 2016, p.56; June 2015, p.46; July 2013, p.28; June 2008, p.22].
In response, a statewide exclusion policy was implemented in 2007. ...
by Matt Clarke
In March 2019, a federal district court held that attorney fees in a lawsuit filed by a teenage girl who was repeatedly raped by a guard at the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma were limited by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) to 150% of the $25,000 in damages awarded by a jury. To add insult to injury, the court held that pursuant to the PLRA, the victim had to pay 25% of her damages towards the attorney fee award.
LaDona A. Poore was 17 and incarcerated at the jail in early 2010. She and other female juveniles were housed in the north wing of the facility’s medical unit, which lacked video surveillance. They were supervised by male and female guards, including Seth Bowers, who repeatedly sexually assaulted Poore and at least attempted to sexually assault another juvenile.
After Poore’s release from jail, Tulsa attorneys Louis W. Bullock, Patricia W. Bullock, Robert M. Blakemore, Daniel E. Smolen, Donald E. Smolen II, Lauren G. Lambright, Miranda R. Russell and Thomas E. Mortensen helped her file a civil rights lawsuit against Bowers and Sheriff Stanley Glanz.
On March 2, 2016, following an eight-day trial, ...
by Ed Lyon
Nicholas Ayers was a pretrial detainee at the Jackson County Detention Center in Missouri in 2015 and 2016. On January 1, 2016, a water pipe to Ayers’ cell broke so the water to his cell was cut off. A feature of plumbing unique to jails and prisons, due to the number of toilets and sinks in close proximity, is a back-flush valving system designed to keep one toilet’s contents from entering another toilet when it is flushed. Whenever water pressure is cut off to a toilet, back-flushing can occur despite the system’s design that is supposed to prevent it.
When the water was cut off to Ayers’ cell to stop the leak, his toilet would occasionally fill with back-flushed sewage from other cells. Sometimes his toilet would overflow onto his cell floor. When that occurred, Ayers would leave his cell, walk downstairs, draw water into a plastic trash can and take it to his cell. After pouring the water into his toilet, it would then flush the sewage back into the main system. Ayers could leave his cell at will because the locking mechanism on his door was broken – a common problem at the jail. ...
by Matt Clarke
In February 2019, LaPorte County, Indiana agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the estate of a jail prisoner who died of seizures caused by alcohol withdrawal. The suit alleged that the county jail, its private health care provider, the arresting officer and a hospital ignored the prisoner’s extreme intoxication level and the danger it posed to her life.
Rachel Barnes, 33, was arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated after she drove her car into a farm pond. Deputy Sheriff Skyler M. Curtis took her to the LaPorte Hospital for a blood test for alcohol and drugs. Rather than waiting at the hospital for an hour to obtain the test results, he immediately transported Barnes to the LaPorte County Jail without having received medical clearance to move her.
During the booking process around 11:00 p.m., Barnes told Deputy Sheriff Bruce Vermilyer that she suffered from seizures and was withdrawing from alcohol and methadone. She indicated she needed medical care and said, “Think I am going to die if I don’t go to hospital.”
Vermilyer told her she would not be taken to the hospital. He called Dr. Weldon Cooke, an employee ...
by Douglas Ankney
In a continued pattern of granting clemency to conservative political allies, on May 15, 2019, President Trump pardoned former newspaper mogul Conrad M. Black, who served 42 months in federal prison after being convicted of fraud and obstruction of justice in 2007. The charges were related to illegally pocketing money from his company, Hollinger International. Black was originally sentenced to 78 months but two counts of fraud were reversed on appeal, resulting in a reduced sentence. PLN published an interview with him in 2012. [See: PLN, Sept. 2012, p.1].
Black, a Canadian citizen, once headed a newspaper empire that included the Chicago Sun-Times, The Jerusalem Post and The Daily Telegraph. Upon his release, he was deported to Canada and now writes columns for the National Post. Black, a friend and outspoken supporter of Trump, frequently praises the president in his newspaper columns. In 2015, Black wrote a column titled “Trump is the Good Guy.” In reply, Trump tweeted, “[W]hat an honor to read your piece. As one of the truly great intellects & my friend, I won’t forget!”
Last year, Black published a biography titled Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other. ...
by Scott Grammer
Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it had accepted a $50,000 settlement from Cary J. Hudson, a former Bureau of Prisons financial administrator, to resolve allegations that he took kickbacks from Integrated Medical Solutions, Inc. (IMS). Hudson was accused of accepting the payments in return for helping IMS obtain contracts with the BOP. The company and its former president, Jerry Heftler, agreed to pay $2.4 million to settle related claims in May 2017.
Hudson allegedly gave IMS access to information that provided an advantage in bidding for contracts for healthcare services at federal prisons. He had previously pleaded guilty to a felony for failing to disclose his business relationship with IMS, and was sentenced in October 2014 to three years of probation plus a $5,000 fine.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler with the DOJ’s Civil Division said, “This settlement demonstrates that the Department of Justice is committed to protecting the integrity of the federal contracting process from unscrupulous contractors.”
According to a DOJ press release, Hudson had also served as a consultant for IMS and assisted with the performance of the company’s contracts while he was still employed as a BOP ...
by Matt Clarke
On February 20, 2019, Tulsa County, Oklahoma agreed to pay $350,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the estate of a man who committed suicide while incarcerated in the county’s jail. The suit accused jail staff of ignoring both the prisoner’s known history of mental illness and attempted suicide and his requests for mental health care.
Charles Jernegan, 32, had a long history of serious mental illness, including paranoid schizophrenia, suicidal thoughts and a suicide attempt. Due to two previous incarcerations at the jail, his history was known to jail staff and medical personnel by the time he was booked into the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center on July 27, 2009.
Further, during his intake screening, Jernegan told jail nurse Faye Taylor, an employee of Correctional Healthcare Management (CHM), that he was a paranoid schizophrenic – but she failed to document his suicidal history. Therefore, he was not placed on suicide watch.
The next day, Jernegan used the jail’s “kiosk” system to submit a request for mental health treatment. Two days later, MHR-MHP Sara Sampson went to his cell to check on him, only to discover that he had been moved to another pod. ...
by Ed Lyon
Study after study has shown that children of incarcerated parents often suffer, sometimes catastrophically. Children with an incarcerated parent have higher incarceration rates as adults themselves than children who never had a parent behind bars.
Some states are taking action to try to circumvent that vicious circle. For example, courts in Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington have been given the ability to sentence defendants to community-based alternative punishments other than incarceration, provided the conviction was for a non-violent offense and the defendant is the primary caregiver of a minor child.
Tennessee has become the latest state to implement this humane, progressive practice through HB1449 / SB985, legislation titled the Primary Caregiver Bill (PCB). The bill passed with strong bi-partisan support and was signed into law by Governor Bill Lee on May 8, 2019. It went into effect on July 1.
The PCB specifically excludes alternative sentencing for any felony that, during the offense’s commission, involved “the use, attempted use or threatened use of physical force or a deadly weapon against another.” It includes a list of statutorily excluded offenses and also excludes “conduct that presents a serious risk of physical injury to another.”
On a ...
by Scott Grammer
The Noble County jail in Albion, Kentucky has found a new way to make money – by renting texting devices to prisoners. For $4.00 a month plus $0.10 per text, prisoners can send and receive monitored messages. The $0.10 fee applies to incoming texts, too. Most people who are not incarcerated have unlimited texting as part of their cell phone plans, but prisoners constitute a literal captive market.
In an April 2019 news report, Noble County Sheriff Max Weber said the devices can only be used to send and receive texts, which is called “chirping” by Combined Public Communications (CPC), the Kentucky company that provides the fee-based service. “It’s text only. It is a privilege for them to have that,” the sheriff stated.
“[I]t generates more money for the county,” added Chief Deputy Brian Walker. “It allows them to communicate with their families. It may deter inmates from misbehaving.”
CPC’s website allows prisoners’ friends and family members to purchase “talk time” for the texting devices. “For over 17 years, CPC has partnered with corrections professionals to provide inmate communication technologies that are reliable and cost effective,” the company states, noting that it provides services ...
by Chad Marks
Irene Nash, suffering from bipolar disorder, found herself on the wrong side of the law when she returned to her former childhood home. She entered the house and drank a bottle of wine. It was not long before the homeowners arrived, discovered her in the house and called police.
The house, in Wilmette, Illinois, no longer belonged to Nash’s parents. They had sold it, but Nash had forgotten in large part due to her mental health issues. She was arrested in 2010 for entering the home and eventually was found unfit to stand trial.
In September 2013, Nash was booked into the Cook County Jail. Once there, it was determined she should be housed in a unit for prisoners with psychiatric problems. Rather than being placed in that unit, however, she was sent to the general population.
That proved to be disastrous, as she began talking to herself, which angered another prisoner. That prisoner, who had a history of violence and mental illness, brutally assaulted Nash. As a result of the beating, she was transported to a hospital with massive bleeding on her brain; she was in a coma for a month and later required rehabilitation ...
by Chad Marks
Lara Ann Gillis, a 47-year-old mother, died in December 2015 after spending just over 24 hours at a county jail.
Gillis was arrested on December 4, 2015 in Monterey County, California on suspicion of being under the influence of drugs, obstructing law enforcement and possession of marijuana. At the time of her arrest she was yelling, “Please help me! I don’t want to die!”
Once booked into the county jail, she was placed in restraints and held in a safety cell with no sink or toilet, reportedly because she was combative. “Guards provided her with no food and only a single cup of water,” said attorney Elise Sanguinetti.
A nurse discovered Gillis lying on her side, covered in feces, moaning and unresponsive. It look almost an hour for jail staff to call an ambulance. Gillis was transferred to a hospital where it was determined she was suffering from sepsis, severe dehydration and kidney failure. Nine days after being hospitalized, she became the sixth Monterey County jail prisoner to die in 2015. An autopsy found Gillis’ death was caused by organ failure due to a urinary tract infection, which could have been treated with antibiotics.
Her sons, represented ...
by Chad Marks
The King County jail system in Washington State was slated to receive $100,000 in March 2019, but the payment was put on hold following reports that jail officials were not fully complying with a ban on placing juvenile offenders in solitary confinement.
The payment was premised on the King County Council receiving two reports from the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD). The reports were to outline how the council’s December 2017 ban on solitary confinement for juveniles was being implemented. One of the reports, issued in January 2019, revealed that some youths still were being placed in restrictive housing, which was supposed to cease. That triggered the council’s decision to withhold the $100,000.
Guidelines adopted by the council members in December 2018 made it clear that any juveniles held in King County detention facilities could not be placed in solitary unless it was “necessary to prevent significant physical harm to the juvenile detained or to others when less restrictive alternatives would be ineffective.”
The DAJD report indicated the jail system had resorted to solitary confinement for juvenile offenders 15 times over a five-month period, and did not document the reasons for putting them in ...
Alaska: Former governor Sarah Palin’s troubled son, Track Palin, 29, was released from an Alaska halfway house run by The GEO Group after a judge granted a motion on January 24, 2019 that gave him credit for time already served on electronic monitoring. Track had only been at the halfway house since December 5, 2018. He was supposed to serve a year for attacking his father in 2017, and had previously been enrolled in a veterans’ therapeutic court program until he was charged with assault for hitting a girlfriend in September 2018. Palin is an Iraq war veteran and his mother believes post-traumatic stress disorder has contributed to his erratic behavior. His attorney successfully delayed his entry into the halfway house when a PTSD treatment bed at the Chris Kyle Patriots Hospital became available. Anchorage District Attorney Richard Allen objected to the delay, saying Palin had previously been in that program “and it obviously didn’t take then. It is time for this Defendant to face an actual sanction and to adhere to the terms of the agreement he made.”
Arizona: Levian Pacheco, 25, was convicted in September 2018 on seven counts of abusive sexual contact with a ward ...