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Prison Legal News: September, 2019

Issue PDF
Volume 30, Number 9

In this issue:

  1. Opioid Epidemic Impacts Prisons and Jails (p 1)
  2. When Going to Jail Means Giving Up the Meds that Saved Your Life (p 14)
  3. From the Editor (p 16)
  4. Federal Court Dismisses GEO Group’s Defenses in Lawsuit Over Pay for Immigrant Detainees (p 16)
  5. Book Excerpt: Lessons of “The Birdman” (p 18)
  6. Jails in Oregon and Washington State Have High Prisoner Death Rates (p 20)
  7. Texas Passes Laws to Preserve Dignity of Women Prisoners (p 22)
  8. Maine: Female Detainee Raped by Jailer Wins Lawsuit (p 23)
  9. Arizona Prison Scandal: Cell Doors that Don’t Lock, Maintenance Funds Misused (p 24)
  10. GEO Group Under Pressure from Shareholders on Human Rights Policy (p 26)
  11. Michigan: $9,750 in Damages and Costs in Prison Ramadan Violation Suit (p 27)
  12. HRDC Files FOIL Petition Against New York State Attorney General’s Office (p 28)
  13. “Feeling Cute” Social Media Challenge Reveals Brutality of Prison Guards (p 28)
  14. Former Prisoner Named Secretary of Pennsylvania Board of Pardons (p 30)
  15. Pennsylvania Police Officer Shoots Unarmed Man in Holding Cell, is “Excused” by DA (p 31)
  16. Plans for a New Federal Prison on Coal Mine Site in Kentucky Withdrawn (p 31)
  17. Massachusetts Prisoners and Visitors Challenge Restrictive Visitation Rules (p 34)
  18. Illinois Jail Guard Secretly Prosecuted for Assaulting Prisoner (p 36)
  19. Over $488,000 Awarded to Former Michigan Prison Warden in Retaliation Suit (p 36)
  20. Prisoner’s Activism Leads Colorado DOC to Reverse Ban on Greeting Cards, Postcards and Drawings (p 38)
  21. Stormy Daniels’ Former Attorney Accused of Ripping Off Prisoner, Other Clients (p 38)
  22. Jackson, Mississippi Pays $300,000 to Settle Jail Wrongful Death Suit (p 39)
  23. Permanent Injunction for Hepatitis C Treatment Entered for Florida Prisoners (p 40)
  24. Audit Determines Georgia’s State Prisons More Cost Effective than Private Prisons (p 40)
  25. Rider Programs in Idaho Offer Prisoners a Second Chance (p 41)
  26. No Error When Judge Ignored Iowa Prisoner’s Request for Substitute Appointed Counsel (p 42)
  27. Seventh Circuit Holds Indiana’s Sex Offender Treatment Program Unconstitutional (p 42)
  28. Florida DOC Attorney Resigns After Posting Racially-Charged Comments (p 43)
  29. DOJ Probe Finds Alabama Men’s Prisons Overcrowded, Plagued by Ongoing Violence (p 44)
  30. Award in Massachusetts Prisoner’s ADA Case Includes Over $410,000 in Attorney Fees, Costs (p 45)
  31. Court Certifies Class of Former Washington State Prisoners Challenging Debit Release Cards in HRDC Case (p 46)
  32. Oklahoma Jail Administrator, Guard Receive 55-Hour Sentence for Prisoner’s Death (p 46)
  33. Dr. Arthur Zitrin, Anti-Death Penalty Advocate and Bioethicist, Dies at 101 (p 47)
  34. Oregon Faces State and Federal Contempt Proceedings Over Delayed Competency Services for Mentally Ill Defendants – Again (p 48)
  35. Former Missouri Sheriff Gets Prison Time for Illegal Cell Phone Tracking (p 49)
  36. Wisconsin Prisoner Sues After Injury; Seventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal (p 49)
  37. New York City May Expand Investment Bar to Prison Service Providers (p 50)
  38. Mississippi County Pays $27,500 to Settle Lawsuit by Prisoner “Jumped” by Other Prisoners (p 51)
  39. Virginia Jail Not Responding to Problems Cited in Department of Justice Report (p 52)
  40. Sleeping Guard Who Allowed Suicidal Prisoner to Hang Himself Prompts $507,500 Settlement (p 53)
  41. First Step Act Update: Over 1,600 Sentences Reduced, 3,000 Prisoners Released (p 54)
  42. Settlement in Class-Action Suit Over SMU Conditions at Georgia Prison (p 55)
  43. Colorado DOC Settles Lawsuit, Agrees to Treat Thousands of Prisoners with HCV (p 56)
  44. Female Attorneys Denied Access to Clients at Missouri Jail Due to Bras (p 56)
  45. GEO Group Cancels Contract to Run New Mexico Private Prison (p 58)
  46. Court Grants Compassionate Release After BOP Says Prisoner Wasn’t Dying Fast Enough (p 58)
  47. Right to Speedy Trial Not Triggered by Placement in Administrative Segregation (p 59)
  48. Pennsylvania DOC’s New Mail Policy Robs Prisoners of the Personal Touch; Lawsuits Over Legal Mail Settle (p 60)
  49. Texas Prisoner’s Excessive Heat Death Reveals Continuing Danger (p 60)
  50. DNA: To Collect or Not to Collect? (p 62)
  51. News in Brief (p 63)

Opioid Epidemic Impacts Prisons and Jails

by Steve Horn

It has killed far more Americans than the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, claiming over 200,000 lives since 2010 according to the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse. It has swept the nation, from large cities to small towns in every state. A 2017 ...

When Going to Jail Means Giving Up the Meds that Saved Your Life

How the Americans with Disabilities Act could change the way the nation’s jails and prisons treat addiction.

by Beth Schwartzapfel, The Marshall Project

Before Geoffrey Pesce got on methadone, his addiction to heroin and oxycodone nearly destroyed him: He lost his home, his job, custody of his son – ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

For at least the past 50 years, the U.S. government has purported to wage a war on poor drug users. Poor people who used drugs such as heroin, cocaine and marijuana were duly arrested, prosecuted, convicted, caged and even killed in vast numbers – yet with ...

Federal Court Dismisses GEO Group’s Defenses in Lawsuit Over Pay for Immigrant Detainees

by Matt Clarke

Undocumented immigrants in the United States often face wage theft when their employers underpay or refuse to pay them for their labor. A federal class-action lawsuit filed by the Attorney General for the State of Washington has highlighted how such workers continue to face wage theft even ...

Book Excerpt: Lessons of “The Birdman”

by Marc Mauer and Ashley Nellis

In the early part of the last century, Robert Stroud was considered one of the most notorious and dangerous individuals in the U.S. prison system. Born in Seattle, Stroud ran away from his abusive father at the age of thirteen. He settled in ...

Jails in Oregon and Washington State Have High Prisoner Death Rates

by Matt Clarke and Mark Wilson

The Spokane County jail in Washington State recently marked its ninth prisoner death since June 2017. But it was hardly unique. A study released in May 2019 by Columbia Legal Services (CLS), a nonprofit law firm, counted 210 prisoner deaths in local jails across ...

Texas Passes Laws to Preserve Dignity of Women Prisoners

by Matt Clarke

With the passage of House Bill 650, which Governor Greg Abbott has already signed into law, Texas took a first step toward protecting the dignity of women held in state prisons.

There are more women prisoners in Texas than in any other state. The number of women ...

Maine: Female Detainee Raped by Jailer Wins Lawsuit

by Ed Lyon

On October 2, 2016, Amanda Bridges was housed in an administrative segregation cell at Maine’s York County jail, serving a six-month sentence for violating her probation.

Jailer Jonathan Carpenter entered her cell and began to kiss her until he heard someone in the hallway, so he left ...

Arizona Prison Scandal: Cell Doors that Don’t Lock, Maintenance Funds Misused

by Matt Clarke

In June 2019, the Arizona legislature’s Joint Committee on Capital Review approved $16.5 million in special funding for the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) to repair faulty cell door locks at ASPC-Lewis, after a June 2018 surveillance video aired by a Phoenix TV station showed prisoners ...

GEO Group Under Pressure from Shareholders on Human Rights Policy

by David M. Reutter and Kevin Bliss

An activist investor organization has forced Boca Raton, Florida-based GEO Group, which operates or manages almost 75,000 for-profit detention facility beds across the U.S., to adopt a shareholder resolution requiring the company to issue a report on implementation of its human ...

Michigan: $9,750 in Damages and Costs in Prison Ramadan Violation Suit

by David M. Reutter 

A Michigan federal district court awarded costs in a case that alleged prison officials violated the religious rights of four Michigan prisoners during their observance of Ramadan – a holy month for Muslims.

The case went to trial and the jury awarded each plaintiff $150 in ...

HRDC Files FOIL Petition Against New York State Attorney General’s Office

On March 8, 2019, the Human Rights Defense Center, PLN’s parent nonprofit organization, filed suit in the Supreme Court for Albany County, New York against the State Attorney General’s Office for failure to comply with a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request.

According to HRDC’s verified Article 78 petition ...

“Feeling Cute” Social Media Challenge Reveals Brutality of Prison Guards

by Matt Clarke

The “Feeling Cute” social media challenge went viral in the spring of 2019, with photos tagged #FeelingCuteChallenge showing people in their work clothes, declaring they are “feeling cute” as they make a joke about their jobs. The statements were a variation of an online meme known ...

Former Prisoner Named Secretary of Pennsylvania Board of Pardons

by Matt Clarke

It may have seemed like an April Fool’s joke to many Pennsylvanians when, on April 1, 2019, former prisoner Brandon Flood became the new secretary of the state’s Board of Pardons (BOP). In fact, it was part of a multi-prong strategy by Lt. Governor John Fetterman, who ...

Pennsylvania Police Officer Shoots Unarmed Man in Holding Cell, is “Excused” by DA

by Scott Grammer

On March 3, 2019, Brian Riling, 38, was in custody after being arrested on intimidation charges. His girlfriend told police that he had sent her a number of text messages threatening to attack her, calling her a prostitute and saying he would kill himself. Court records showed ...

Plans for a New Federal Prison on Coal Mine Site in Kentucky Withdrawn

Could the failure to move forward on USP Letcher indicate an end of the Appalachian prison boom?

by Panagioti Tsolkas

“I refuse to have our community’s future built on the backs of other people.” That’s what Letcher County, Kentucky resident Elizabeth Sanders said to an NBC reporter last year ...

Massachusetts Prisoners and Visitors Challenge Restrictive Visitation Rules

by Bill Barton 

More restrictive regulations for visits in Massachusetts prisons – originally adopted in March 2018 and later amended effective March 1, 2019 – have spurred at least five lawsuits against the state’s Department of Correction (DOC) by both prisoners and visitors. At stake is restriction of an ...

Illinois Jail Guard Secretly Prosecuted for Assaulting Prisoner

by Scott Grammer

Francisco Valdes, 44, a jailer with the sheriff’s office in Will County, Illinois, was the subject of a secret prosecution at that county’s courthouse. Valdes was charged with two misdemeanor counts of battery in December 2018. 

After the fact of the secret prosecution was revealed by ...

Over $488,000 Awarded to Former Michigan Prison Warden in Retaliation Suit

by David M. Reutter

A federal district court awarded $488,111.78 to Jeffrey P. Larson, formerly a warden with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). He alleged that he was subjected to retaliation for defending and supporting the promotion of his administrative assistant, Larriann Ludwick.

Larson was asked to ...

Prisoner’s Activism Leads Colorado DOC to Reverse Ban on Greeting Cards, Postcards and Drawings

by Matt Clarke

Thanks to the activism of Colorado prisoner Tiffany McCoy, the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) has rescinded its prohibition against prisoners receiving greeting cards, postcards and drawings. 

In 2018, the DOC implemented a policy whereby prisoners only received black-and-white photocopies of greeting cards, postcards ...

Stormy Daniels’ Former Attorney Accused of Ripping Off Prisoner, Other Clients

by Ed Lyon 

For those who have been residing on the moon or perhaps Mars, Michael Avenatti, 48, is a high-profile attorney who has, until recently, represented clients like Stormy Daniels, a noted porn actress who claims to have had an extramarital relationship with President Donald Trump. Avenatti has ...

Jackson, Mississippi Pays $300,000 to Settle Jail Wrongful Death Suit

by Dale Chappell

The City Council in Jackson, Mississippi approved a payment of $300,000 on October 4, 2018 to settle a wrongful death claim after the family of a man who died in the city jail filed a lawsuit in federal court.

The case involved Jamaal Mallard, who ...

Permanent Injunction for Hepatitis C Treatment Entered for Florida Prisoners

by David M. Reutter

A federal district court chastised the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) for its “long and sordid history of neglecting” prisoners infected with hepatitis C (HCV). Finding a “risk of such deliberate indifference reoccurring in the future,” the court entered a permanent injunction that requires the ...

Audit Determines Georgia’s State Prisons More Cost Effective than Private Prisons

by David M. Reutter

A legislative audit, released in December 2018, concluded that it costs Georgia about 10 percent more to house comparable prisoners in private prisons than in state-run facilities. The audit, completed as part of a study on criminal justice reforms, found that it costs $44.56 ...

Rider Programs in Idaho Offer Prisoners a Second Chance

by Jayson Hawkins 

Overcrowded prison populations across the nation have forced states to seek alternatives to incarceration. One solution being used in Idaho is intensive rehabilitative programs called “riders” that can take the place of prison sentences. 

About one out of six Idaho prisoners are selected for rider ...

No Error When Judge Ignored Iowa Prisoner’s Request for Substitute Appointed Counsel

by Matt Clarke 

On May 3, 2019, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a district court did not err when it failed to consider a prisoner’s request for substitute appointed counsel after the attorney initially appointed by the court said the prisoner’s lawsuit was without ...

Seventh Circuit Holds Indiana’s Sex Offender Treatment Program Unconstitutional

by Dale Chappell

In a class-action habeas petition challenging the Indiana DOC’s Sex Offender Management and Monitoring (INSOMM) program as being unconstitutional, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held on April 25, 2019 that INSOMM’s requirement that prisoners admit to crimes they had not been charged with violates their ...

Florida DOC Attorney Resigns After Posting Racially-Charged Comments

by David M. Reutter

Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) assistant general counsel Eric Giunta resigned after making “absolutely unacceptable” comments on Facebook about a video portraying systematic racism.

The video was posted by Providence College assistant theology professor Holly Taylor Coolman. It blamed the challenges facing black people and communities ...

DOJ Probe Finds Alabama Men’s Prisons Overcrowded, Plagued by Ongoing Violence

by David M. Reutter

In April 2019 the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released the results of a three-year investigation into men’s prisons operated by the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), finding that conditions in the facilities violate prisoners’ guarantee of protection from cruel and unusual punishment under the ...

Award in Massachusetts Prisoner’s ADA Case Includes Over $410,000 in Attorney Fees, Costs

by David M. Reutter

Following a March 10, 2017 jury award totaling $250,000, a Massachusetts federal district court awarded $410,116.87 in attorney fees and costs in a prisoner’s lawsuit raising Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claims.

Prisoner William Cox, 57, who is mentally disabled, was awarded a ...

Court Certifies Class of Former Washington State Prisoners Challenging Debit Release Cards in HRDC Case

by Matt Clarke

At the vast majority of the nation’s jails, when someone is arrested their money is confiscated during the booking process. Those funds are placed in a trust account, where prisoners’ families and friends can also deposit money to be used to purchase food and hygiene items from ...

Oklahoma Jail Administrator, Guard Receive 55-Hour Sentence for Prisoner’s Death

by Scott Grammer

Anthony Dewayne Huff, 58, was arrested in Garfield County, Oklahoma on June 4, 2016 for public intoxication and booked into the Garfield County Detention Facility. Two days later he was put in a restraint chair and, on June 8, was “found unresponsive” while still strapped in the ...

Dr. Arthur Zitrin, Anti-Death Penalty Advocate and Bioethicist, Dies at 101

by Scott Grammer

Dr. Arthur Zitrin died at age 101 on May 11, 2019. He was a psychiatrist and leading bioethicist who believed that doctors should take no part in lethal injections. His son Richard, an attorney and professor of legal ethics, said Zitrin died of chronic lung disease complicated ...

Oregon Faces State and Federal Contempt Proceedings Over Delayed Competency Services for Mentally Ill Defendants – Again

by Mark Wilson

"The Oregon State Hospital has known about this for 16 years,” criminal defense attorney Amanda Thibeault said as she fought back tears. “I feel like I’m failing my client. For too long the Oregon legislature and the agencies it funds have placed other priorities ahead of ...

Former Missouri Sheriff Gets Prison Time for Illegal Cell Phone Tracking

by David M. Reutter

A former Missouri sheriff who campaigned on getting tough on drug dealers was sentenced to six months in prison plus four months on house arrest after pleading guilty to identity theft and wire fraud.

The fall from grace of Cory Hutcheson, 36, the former sheriff of ...

Wisconsin Prisoner Sues After Injury; Seventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal

by Scott Grammer

On March 6, 2019, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a federal lawsuit filed by Wisconsin prisoner Ezra R.E. French. According to the ruling, French was working on a yard crew at the Green Bay Correctional Institution when a guard ...

New York City May Expand Investment Bar to Prison Service Providers

by Kevin Bliss

Under a policy adopted in 2017 by the Comptroller of New York City, none of the city’s five pension funds has any investments in private prison operators due to concerns about investing public money in companies that profit from mass incarceration. Now that ban may also be ...

Mississippi County Pays $27,500 to Settle Lawsuit by Prisoner “Jumped” by Other Prisoners

by Dale Chappell

A man held at the Lauderdale County jail in Mississippi for failure to register as a sex offender settled a federal lawsuit over permanent injuries he received when he was “jumped” by other prisoners while guards failed to stop the attack.

Jarrett R. Nelson was booked into ...

Virginia Jail Not Responding to Problems Cited in Department of Justice Report

by Douglas Ankney

"Help us.” “We are dying in here.” “They are trying to kill us.”

Those were just some of the pleas that civil rights and mental health advocates heard from prisoners who shouted through the walls during a tour of Virginia’s Hampton Roads Regional Jail ...

Sleeping Guard Who Allowed Suicidal Prisoner to Hang Himself Prompts $507,500 Settlement

by Dale Chappell

A sleeping guard at the Lancaster County jail in South Carolina, who was supposed to be watching a suicidal prisoner who killed himself, prompted the county to settle a wrongful death suit for $507,500.

When Randy Stevens’ friend called 911 in May 2014 because Stevens was ...

First Step Act Update: Over 1,600 Sentences Reduced, 3,000 Prisoners Released

by Dale Chappell and Douglas Ankney

As of late July 2019, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) had released over 3,000 prisoners under the First Step Act, a landmark criminal justice reform measure signed in December 2018 by President Trump. [See: PLN, April 2019, p.1; Jan. 2019, p ...

Settlement in Class-Action Suit Over SMU Conditions at Georgia Prison

by David M. Reutter

A Georgia federal district court has approved a settlement agreement in a class-action lawsuit challenging conditions and practices in the Special Management Unit (SMU) at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison.

The suit was filed pro se in 2015 by prisoner Timothy Gumm, and the district ...

Colorado DOC Settles Lawsuit, Agrees to Treat Thousands of Prisoners with HCV

by Dale Chappell

The Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) has agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit by providing lifesaving treatment to thousands of prisoners with hepatitis C (HCV), which will cost the state at least $41 million. [See: PLN, June 2019, p.44].

The suit, filed by the ACLU of ...

Female Attorneys Denied Access to Clients at Missouri Jail Due to Bras

by Ed Lyon

As of May 2019, a new policy at the Jackson County Detention Center in Missouri requires female attorneys to remove any brassieres with metal underwires before passing through a metal detector in order to gain access to the jail for client meetings. The bra may not then ...

GEO Group Cancels Contract to Run New Mexico Private Prison

by Matt Clarke

On June 27, 2019, private prison operator The GEO Group, based in Boca Raton, Florida, announced that it would stop operating the Northeast New Mexico Detention Facility in Clayton.

The company cited inadequate compensation in its contract that made it impossible to recruit and retain staff in ...

Court Grants Compassionate Release After BOP Says Prisoner Wasn’t Dying Fast Enough

by Dale Chappell

In a case that demonstrates exactly why the First Step Act included much-needed changes for compassionate release for federal prisoners, the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana granted immediate release to a terminally ill, wheelchair-bound prisoner after the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) rejected his ...

Right to Speedy Trial Not Triggered by Placement in Administrative Segregation

by David M. Reutter

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a prisoner’s placement in administrative segregation while under investigation for a new crime does not trigger his right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment or the Speedy Trial Act.

Before the appellate court was the ...

Pennsylvania DOC’s New Mail Policy Robs Prisoners of the Personal Touch; Lawsuits Over Legal Mail Settle

by David M. Reutter

Last year the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PDOC) implemented a policy that prohibits prisoners from receiving original correspondence from their family members and friends. The policy went into effect in September 2018 in response to a 12-day statewide lockdown the prior month after an “unprecedented number ...

Texas Prisoner’s Excessive Heat Death Reveals Continuing Danger

by Matt Clarke

After the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) settled a lawsuit over excessive heat filed by prisoners at the Wallace Pack Unit, by agreeing to air condition the facility and move heat-sensitive prisoners to cooler cells, many thought the issue of heat-related deaths in Texas prisons had ...

DNA: To Collect or Not to Collect?

by Ed Lyon

While media attention tends to focus on the use of DNA evidence to free wrongly convicted prisoners – the Innocence Project counts 365 such exonerations since the first in 1989 – far more DNA samples are collected from convicted offenders held in all 50 states and by ...

News in Brief

Alabama: The Montgomery County jail uses NaphCare, a private company, as its medical provider. Sasha Garvin, 27, had Crohn’s disease; she was held at the jail for failure to appear for traffic violations. Garvin told the nurses she needed to go to the hospital on May 17, 2017. She was ...