Skip navigation

Prison Legal News: September, 2019

View as PDF
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 Plans for a New Federal Prison on Coal Mine Site in Kentucky Withdrawn (p 31)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 report from the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers put its estimated cost at $504 billion in 2015 alone.

“It” is the opioid epidemic, which has left a trail of addiction and death in its wake. As with crack cocaine and meth, opioid abuse has led to a new front in the so-called War on Drugs, filling prisons and jails with those who sell and use heroin, fentanyl and prescription meds such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.

While some of the people convicted of opioid-related charges face involuntary civil commitment or court-ordered drug treatment, most end up in prisons or jails where there is a general lack of substance abuse programs. Worse, some correctional facilities have banned medications that doctors and public health officials say could help treat opioid addicts who end up behind bars.

In addition, a black market has developed inside jails and prisons to provide opioids to incarcerated addicts, leading ...

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 – and his driver’s license. So even after he began to rebuild his life, Pesce relied on his parents to drive him to a methadone clinic for his daily dose. One day last July, his mother was unexpectedly unavailable, and desperate not to relapse, he drove himself.

En route, Pesce was pulled over for going six miles above the speed limit and charged with driving with a suspended or revoked license, which carries at least 60 days in jail. Pesce began staring down the day he would plead guilty and, as mandated by the rules of the jail in Essex County, Massachusetts, stop taking the addiction drug that he said saved his life.

Most jails and prisons around the country forbid methadone and a newer addiction medication, buprenorphine, even when legitimately prescribed, on the grounds that they pose safety and security concerns. The drugs are frequently smuggled into facilities and sold ...

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 each doubling of the prison and jail population, drug users remained as ubiquitous as ever. Not only was the U.S. population the victim of this ongoing practice, but the countries where many of the drugs were produced were militarized, invaded, conquered and otherwise brought to their collective knees under the guise of fighting a “War on Drugs” that has no end in sight.

When I was incarcerated, a fellow prisoner named Douglas Housley, who had been convicted of being a drug chemist, once told me that the only difference between him and the pharmaceutical industry was that they had better laboratories to produce drugs. At the end of the day, their end goal of getting people high to escape their reality was the same as his. That people have long used drugs to get high, drunk or otherwise alter their perception of reality or escape it should come as no surprise. ...

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 when in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). [See: PLN, Dec. 2018, p.20; June 2018, p.38].

The suit sought the state minimum wage for ICE detainees held at the 1,575-bed Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, who were being paid $1.00 a day to labor for the facility’s operator, The GEO Group. On May 13, 2019, a federal district court granted partial summary judgment to the state and dismissed several affirmative defenses raised by GEO.

In 2017, Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed the lawsuit seeking to enforce Washington’s Minimum Wage Act, which requires workers to be paid at least $12 an hour. GEO was paying detainees who participated in ICE’s Voluntary Work Program (VWP) just $1.00 per day. VWP workers “collect and distribute laundry, prepare and serve food, clean, paint interior walls, and use electric shears to cut hair.”

ICE contracts with GEO Group to house immigrant detainees ...

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 Alaska and became a pimp by the age of eighteen. In 1911, he was convicted of the brutal murder of a bartender who had allegedly not paid for the services of one of his prostitutes, and was sentenced to twelve years in prison.

In federal prison, Stroud on various occasions stabbed other prisoners and attacked a hospital orderly. After being transferred to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, he got into an altercation in 1916 with a guard over a violation that would have prohibited a prison visit from his brother. In retaliation he fatally stabbed the guard in the prison cafeteria in front of 1,100 prisoners. He was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death by hanging, but in 1920 he received a commutation of sentence to life without parole from President Woodrow Wilson.

The name of Robert Stroud is not familiar to very many Americans today, but many more know of ...

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 the state between 2005 and 2016, an average of one every three years in each of the 54 facilities – there are 59 local and regional jails in Washington – for which data could be obtained.

One of those deaths was that of Lindsay Kronberger, a 24-year-old who suffered nine days of untreated heroin withdrawal symptoms while video cameras recorded jail staff openly mocking her before she had a heart attack at the Snohomish County jail in 2014. Another was the death of Christopher Parker, 33, a diabetic who was high on methamphetamine when he was placed in a restraint chair at the jail in Spokane County in 2013. A third death was that of Matthew Smith, a 28-year-old with Crohn’s disease who died in 2016 due to untreated sepsis at the Tacoma County jail.

All three of those fatalities resulted in lawsuits, and jail officials in Tacoma County severed ...

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 incarcerated in Texas increased almost 1,000% since 1980, yet they are still only a tiny fraction of the state’s overall prison population. Perhaps for that reason, problems unique to women have long been neglected by prison officials. HB 650 addresses some of those problems.

The chairman of the Texas House Corrections Committee, Rep. James White, introduced the bill after noticing a large increase in the female prison population. His committee had received complaints about issues such as shackling of pregnant prisoners; requiring pregnant prisoners to climb onto top bunks; inadequate nutrition for pregnant prisoners; inadequate provision of tampons, menstrual pads and panty liners; the presence of male guards when women prisoners were strip searched; the placement of pregnant and post-partum women in solitary confinement; and an inadequate period of bonding for mother and child after birth. The bill addressed those issues.

HB 650 created laws that prohibit the shackling of ...

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. He returned a half-hour later and raped Bridges.

He threatened her not to tell anyone, leaving her traumatized and terrified. There was no video surveillance cameras covering Bridges’ cell.

Four days later, she unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide by hanging herself. When questioned by jail officials about Carpenter, the still-frightened Bridges refused to tell them what happened. Only later, when she was transferred to the Cumberland County jail, did she feel safe enough to report the sexual assault. An investigation swiftly resulted in Carpenter’s termination from the sheriff’s department.

On April 10, 2018, Carpenter entered a guilty plea to felony class B sexual assault. He received a five-year sentence, with four years suspended, to be followed by a three-year term of probation. He will also have to register as a sex offender.

Attorney Heather Gonzales of Portland, Maine filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on Bridges’ behalf. A pendant state ...

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 leaving their cells to attack each other and guards. One prisoner, 36-year-old Andrew McCormick, died in the melee after sustaining injuries from multiple attackers.

“Of all the places for locks not to be working, for the safety of inmates and officers alike, what the heck?” asked Jodie McCormick, Andrew’s mother, who said the family will be filing a lawsuit against the DOC. She noted her son had only 18 months left to serve on his 12-year sentence. “It makes absolutely no sense,” she stated.

The surveillance video of McCormick’s murder was one of six obtained by TV station ABC15. In total, they showed over an hour and a half of footage during which unsupervised prisoners roamed the facility, assaulting guards and other prisoners.

“The inmates are running the unit, there’s no doubt in my mind when I see what’s going on here,” said California prison expert Richard Subia.

News reports tracked ...

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 rights policy.

Under pressure from the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), GEO Group adopted its first human rights policy in 2013 after reports surfaced in the news media – including in PLN – of deaths and poor conditions in the company’s facilities due to understaffing and cost-cutting. ICCR began buying small amounts of stock in GEO with the intent of guiding it toward a more responsible position regarding human rights for prisoners and detainees.

Originally founded to force businesses to divest from South Africa during apartheid, ICCR is a coalition of asset managers, unions, pensions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and faith organizations with over $400 billion in managed assets that invests in corporations to influence their practices and increase accountability.

Citing ICCR’s “ongoing engagements with GEO around human rights concerns for seven years,” Father Bryan Pham, S.J., of Jesuits West – one of the ICCR coalition members – said the group ...

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 compensatory damages plus $500 in punitive damages for each Ramadan observance at issue. Prisoners Lamont Heard and Anthony Nelson each received $1,300 for 2011 and 2012 violations, while prisoners Jamero T. Moses and William Johnson were awarded $650 each for 2012 Ramadan violations. All were members of the Nation of Islam.

After the district court denied defendant Brad Purves’ motion for judgment as a matter of law and the plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial on damages, the prisoners moved for costs.

That motion sought recovery of costs while the plaintiffs litigated the case pro se and when they were later represented by the Michigan State University College of Law Clinic, which acted pro bono but sought reimbursement for $6,117.84 in costs.

Purves did not argue that the Law Clinic’s costs were not recoverable. Rather, he claimed that such expenses were capped at $5,850 under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d)(2), by ...

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, the organization submitted a FOIL request to the Attorney General’s Office in August 2018, “seeking records of all claims or litigation against the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (NYS DOCCS), the New York State Police, and the State of New York for events or circumstances occurring at or related to the facilities of NYS DOCCS or the New York State Police.”

Specifically, HRDC requested information related to payouts in litigation and claims involving the State Police and New York’s prison system, including “settlements, damages, attorney fee awards and sanctions,” in order to report on the costs of imprisonment and policing – costs that are borne by taxpayers. HRDC uses such records to report on case outcomes in its monthly publications, Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News.

In September 2018, the Attorney General’s Office said it would take until March 24, 2021 to provide the requested ...

“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 as “feeling cute, might delete later.”

It was all harmless fun when teachers, postal workers, firefighters and law enforcement officers first took up the challenge. But then darker posts started to appear. A water works employee said he “might cut off your water later.” Police officers posted about arresting people and pulling drivers “over for tint.” Some prison guards on the now-private 30,000-member Correctional Officer Life Facebook group made even darker comments, including:

• “Feeling cute, might shoot your baby daddy today ... idk.” 

• “Feeling cute, might take your homeboy to the hole later.” 

• “Feeling cute, I’m still going to lock you down.”

• “Feeling cute, might just gas some inmates today, IDK.” 

• “Feeling cute, might put your baby daddy in the shower for 6 hours, since we ain’t got no beds.” 

Apparently, some of the guards thought that including an abbreviated “I ...

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 is also chairman of the five-member BOP, to make pardons more accessible to ex-prisoners.

Fetterman called Flood “a singularly unique person to have in order help remake the process ... which is only the only remedy for anyone in Pennsylvania who wants to move forward with their lives in this way.”

“If they see this [a pardon] as a viable option, they will continue to be productive citizens,” Flood remarked. “They will see there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.” 

Flood, 36, was raised along with two sisters by a single father who was a veteran and worked as a government accountant. Flood believes he turned to street crime to rebel against his straight-arrow upbringing. He also admits to “trying to take the easy route” to money and success by dealing drugs. 

His first arrest came at the age of 15 at John Harris High School ...

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 that Riling wanted his girlfriend to recant her report that he had broken into her home to ask why she was not returning his messages. She told police he had grabbed her by the throat and spit in her face after she left work on March 3. 

While in custody, Riling was placed in a holding cell by two police officers and asked to remove his belt. When he did so, a small object “consistent with a drug baggie” fell to the floor and Riling attempted to conceal it by stepping on it, which prompted a struggle. One unnamed officer yelled “Taser,” then shot Riling in the stomach while he was being held by the other officer. But he used his handgun, not a Taser. Riling asked, “Was that a gun? What are you doing? Did you shoot me with a gun?”

Riling lay on the floor after being ...

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 who was inquiring about local opinions on a proposed federal prison in the area where she lives. 

At the time, opposition efforts to stop the USP Letcher prison seemed bleak. But as of June 2019, in a rare turn of events resulting from persistent opposition and a lawsuit, the proposed facility is officially off the table. Gaining a deeper understanding of how and why the prison was stopped could help criminal justice reform advocates undermine a half-century of mass incarceration in the United States.

On March 22, 2018, NBC published its article on opposition to the proposed 1,200-bed facility. While plans to construct the most expensive federal prison in the nation’s history were already five years along, the write-up was the first major news coverage about USP Letcher. The article’s title, “Does America need another prison? It may be this rural county’s only chance at survival,” reeked of the same ...

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 element of prison life – visitation from a prisoner’s family and friends – which research has repeatedly shown not only reduces recidivism but also makes prisons safer.

Under the new DOC rules, all visitors must be pre-screened. Each prisoner may submit names for pre-screening until his or her visitation list reaches its limit: five (amended to eight in 2019) for maximum-security facilities, eight for medium-security prisons and 10 for minimum-security facilities. Prisoners with large immediate families may petition for special exceptions.

A prisoner may adjust his or her list only once every 120 days as of March 2019, though that was up from twice a year when the new rules took effect in 2018. Prior to that time the DOC allowed an unlimited number of visitors, who were required only to show up at scheduled visitation times, fill out a form, present ID and submit to a search. 

Assistant ...

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 a local newspaper, Will County State’s Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Carole Cheney said, “The State’s Attorney’s Office filed the initial charges and the matter was initially sealed for the protection of the arresting officers. A motion for appointment of the Illinois Appellate Prosecutor’s Office, to avoid the appearance of an impropriety, was presented to the chief judge and granted. An arrest has been made and the Illinois Appellate Prosecutor’s Office is free to remove the seal.”

Valdes is accused of attacking prisoner Antonio Russell-Rivers, 20, at the Will County Adult Detention Facility in September 2018. Charging documents and internal affairs reports indicate that Russell-Rivers was sitting on his bunk when Valdes reportedly approached him and struck him in the face – an incident captured on video. An internal affairs investigation ensued. 

On April 29, 2019, the Joliet Patch newspaper filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking access to documents ...

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 “right the ship” at the Central Michigan Correctional Facility in February 2013. He said Ludwick was instrumental in overhauling the prison in a timely manner. Larson’s superior, MDOC assistant deputy director Michael Curley, however, “was locked in the 1950s when it came to women in prison administration.” He “viewed women as objects of sexual gratification only and refused to believe that women, including Ludwick, could contribute to the institutional mission.”

Rather than accepting that Ludwick was doing a great job, Curley frequently insisted that Larson “must be having sex” with her based on Larson’s praise of her work, because Curley believed “no woman can be that good.”

Larson supported Ludwick’s several attempts to be promoted to deputy warden, which caused the relationship between Curley and Larson to deteriorate. Their prior friendship became blatantly antagonistic. Larson’s complaint listed seven specific instances of Curley’s “unbridled gender bias,” yet MDOC officials refused to address or ...

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 and drawings received in the mail. The intent was to reduce the flow of drugs into the prison system. McCoy, who is incarcerated at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, believed the copies were an inadequate substitute for the colorful cards and drawings sent by family members, including prisoners’ children. She believed the policy erected a barrier to remaining in touch with her family. 

“Cards mean everything to us. First that our family went and picked out the card. Went to the store and thought about us and our favorite colors. They had to go buy the stamp, so it took some energy and effort for them,” said McCoy, 29, who has already served a decade of her 28-year sentence for armed robbery. “My family did not touch the photocopies. That’s not what my grandmother went and bought and touched and held. The card might smell like her. It’s knowing ...

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 since been accused of stealing from his clients and extorting a large corporation. 

Long before the Stormy Daniels saga, Avenatti sued Los Angeles County, California on behalf of jail prisoner Geoffrey Johnson, who fell from a second tier and became a paraplegic as a result. There was never a trial; the county settled for $4,000,000. Avenatti did not tell Johnson about the settlement. Instead, he banked the money in January 2015. 

After Johnson lost his Social Security benefits, Avenatti began doling out small payments each month for a total of $124,000. He explained the county would pay the settlement in installments each quarter for ten or more years, and then only to a “special needs trust.” None of that was true.

Avenatti did not confine his predatory practices to marginalized members of society. In April 2019, a federal grand jury in Los Angeles issued a 36-count indictment against ...

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 was booked into the Jackson City Jail in October 2015 for allegedly stealing a lawnmower. Just hours later he was found in his cell, dead from a cocaine overdose.

Nanette Mallard, Jamaal’s mother, sued on behalf of her son and his heirs. Jamaal was 29 years old when he died. After he turned himself in to police, he was shackled and handcuffed, and his hands chained to his waist. He was then placed in a holding cell and left for hours. That was just before 4 a.m.

About two hours later, the oncoming shift saw Mallard facedown on the floor in a “sleep position,” according to jail records. Nobody attempted to check whether he was actually sleeping. At just after 7 a.m., guards went to get Mallard to be released. They then discovered he was unresponsive; 15 minutes later, staff called for an ambulance.

The lawsuit claimed the guards “negligently failed ...

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 FDOC to treat all prisoners with the disease.

PLN previously reported that the district court had issued a preliminary injunction on November 17, 2017. [See: PLN, Dec. 2017, p.24].In the 15 months since that order was entered, the FDOC screened 55,348 prisoners for hepatitis C, identified 7,185 as having chronic HCV, and began or completed treating 4,901 prisoners with direct-acting antivirals (DAAs).

The court was presented with cross summary judgment motions that sought a permanent injunction. The FDOC wanted the relief restricted to that contained in the preliminary injunction, while the class members sought additional relief. 

The district court sided with the prisoners and added additional requirements. It noted the FDOC had admitted it “was not adequately monitoring all inmates with chronic HCV prior to the preliminary injunction,” and that failure “was due to a lack of funding.” Prison officials acknowledged and the court found that chronic HCV is ...

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 per diem for prisoners housed in state prisons compared to $49.07 per diem at private prisons.

The Georgia Department of Corrections (GDOC) has an average population of about 50,000 prisoners and an annual budget of around $1.2 billion. The state pays GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) nearly $140 million a year to house about 15 percent of its prison population – some 7,800 prisoners – at four privately-operated prisons: the Coffee County Correctional Facility, Jenkins Correctional Facility, Wheeler Correctional Facility and Riverbend Correctional Facility.

The audit found that across all categories of prisoners, the GDOC spends an average of $65.58 per diem when medical and maximum-security units are included. The auditors screened for  prisoners’ gender, facility size and risk classification in private and state prisons when making a comparative analysis of housing costs.

Georgia House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England said he wanted to examine the ...

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 programs, the vast majority of whom have been convicted of non­violent and/or drug-related crimes. The programs are designed to help participants overcome problems such as aggressive behavior, sexual misconduct and substance abuse. After completing the programs, they are placed on probation for the remainder of their sentences.

“It offers people an out,” said Idaho Department of Correction chief of staff Bree Derrick. “There’s an off-ramp to get back on to probation.”

Prisoners involved in riders are kept apart from the general prison population, but the programs still take place behind bars. A typical day for participants lasts from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and includes six hours in a classroom plus counseling, group sessions or other forms of treatment. The classes are intended to improve assessment skills in handling common situations. In one exercise, participants are given flashcards with different scenarios and discuss the best way to react. 

Idaho ...

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 merit. The Court of Appeals also found no evidence that prison officials had acted with deliberate indifference to the prisoner’s serious medical needs. 

Iowa state prisoner Husein Cejvanovic suffered a serious hip injury when he was assaulted by another prisoner at the Iowa State Penitentiary (ISP). That same day he was given pain medication and placed on bed rest pending the results of an X-ray, which eventually revealed a fractured hip. The next day he was transferred to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC), where he was evaluated and hip surgery was performed. Several days later Cejvanovic returned to ISP, but he went back to UIHC for follow-up visits in the following months. 

The UIHC report from his third follow-up visit noted that he felt unsteady walking and might benefit from the use of a cane. ISP issued him a special pair of New Balance shoes ...

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 Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Under INSOMM, which all prisoners in Indiana convicted of sex offenses must complete before their release, if a prisoner refuses to admit or is deceptive about past sex-related crimes for which he was never charged, the state takes previously-earned good conduct time (GCT). Some prisoners have lost all of their GCT for refusing to admit to past offenses.

Yet INSOMM doesn’t allow confidentiality or immunity. Prisoners are made aware that whatever they admit to in the program can be used against them to file new charges. That applies to admissions discovered through testing, such as polygraphs. [See: PLN, July 2018, p.46; Nov. 2016, p.20].

The question before the Seventh Circuit was whether taking a prisoner’s earned GCT constituted “compelled” speech under the Fifth Amendment intended to induce a confession that could incriminate the prisoner. The appellate court held it did.

Pursuant to the Fifth ...

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 on “systematic racism” by whites.

After he viewed a friend’s Facebook post of the video, Giunta wrote that “black people need to stop raping, murdering, stealing, and vandalizing, and quit having children out of wedlock.”

“That’s how literally every other once-despised ethnic group broke the cycle and entered into the middle class mainstream,” he added. In one comment, he said he saw nothing in the video “that even remotely took into account black lifestyle choices and their impact on black poverty.... Nope, it’s all the fault of the white devil!” 

His comments created an outcry. In a follow-up post, Coolman told Giunta it was hard to know how to respond to his Facebook posts.

“I’ll just say briefly that I don’t think your comment reflects an understanding of the important differences between the history of the black community and of ‘every other once despised ethnic group,’” she said.

The ...

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 Eighth Amendment.

“The violations are severe, systematic, and exacerbated by serious deficiencies” in virtually every area of prison operations, the DOJ reported.

The investigation, which began in 2016, focused on whether the ADOC adequately protects prisoners from physical and sexual abuse at the hands of other prisoners, and from the use of excessive force and sexual assaults by guards. Also at issue was whether prisoners are provided with sanitary, secure and safe living conditions.

The DOJ found that due to a toxic combination of overcrowding and understaffing, ADOC facilities are “inadequately supervised, with inappropriate and unsafe housing designations, creating an environment rife with violence, extortion, drugs, and weapons.”

In 2014, the homicide rate in U.S. prisons averaged seven per 100,000 prisoners. In fiscal year 2017, the ADOC reported a rate eight times higher, tallying nine homicides among a prison population that was then 16,000. The actual murder rate may be higher, ...

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 verdict against Steven J. O’Brien, a prison superintendent with the Massachusetts Department of Correction (MDOC). The jury found that MDOC officials had failed to provide Cox with meaningful access to “(1) procedures to obtain medical care (2) procedures to report and resolve grievances (3) procedures to report physical or sexual threats or assaults and (4) use of telephones.” It awarded $50,000, $25,000, $150,000 and $25,000, respectively, on those claims.

In a post-trial order in March 2018, the district court found Cox’s claim related to use of phones was not supported by the evidence and dismissed that portion of the verdict. Further, it remitted the claim for reporting problems and resolving grievances to $1,000, reducing the total judgment to $201,000.

Cox’s attorneys, Rosemary Scapicchio and Amy Codagnone, moved for $731,307.50 in attorney fees plus $5,039.37 in costs. The MDOC objected and sought a reduction. The court reduced the amount of hours spent on failed ...

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 the jail’s commissary. Historically, upon release from custody, a prisoner receives any remaining funds in their trust account in the form of a check or cash. But many jails have recently started giving released prisoners prepaid debit cards that impose numerous fees, with no other option for receiving their release funds. In Washington State, a federal judge has certified a class of former jail prisoners who were required to accept such debit release cards.

The Human Rights Defense Center, the parent organization of Prison Legal News, helped former Kitsap County, Washington jail prisoner Jeffery Reichert file a federal lawsuit against Keefe Commissary Network, LLC, doing business as Access Corrections; Rapid Financial Solutions, doing business as Access Freedom; and Cache Valley Bank, alleging they had violated the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA), 15 U.S.C. § 1693, when they required prisoners to accept their release funds on prepaid debit cards. [See: ...

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 chair. He was pronounced dead that same day.

A federal lawsuit filed in 2017 accused jailers of being negligent because they should have been aware from Huff’s previous incarcerations that he took medications for heart disease, high blood pressure, depression and other medical conditions. The suit alleged that Huff was originally placed in the restraint chair because he began hallucinating and exhibiting delusions. Jail staff did not obtain a medical recommendation to use the chair, didn’t check his blood pressure, didn’t give him his medications and didn’t offer him hydration, according to the complaint.

Surveillance video recorded Huff while he was in the restraint chair. According to Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent Charles Dancer, “It appears that water was offered to Huff at the beginning of the video. Later in the video, it appears that on one occasion a food tray was placed on Huff’s lap while he remained ...

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 by a stroke.

According to NYU Center for Bioethics founding director William Ruddick, Dr. Zitrin “sued the Georgia State Board of Medical Examiners to expel any physician who took part in an execution, giving the false appearance of a humane killing. Although his case was dismissed on technical grounds, his novel tactic has been widely noted and honored by lawyers’ organizations.” Zitrin sued the Board after filing a complaint against a doctor who had participated in an execution. [See: PLN, Feb. 2005, p.23].

Based in part on Dr. Zitrin’s ethical objection to capital punishment, the American Medical Association filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the recent case of Bucklew v. Precythe, 139 S.Ct. 1112 (2019). It stated, “Society wants to delude itself into a belief that capital punishment no longer represents a weighted moral choice, but is now somehow scientific – nearly antiseptic. This delusion, ...

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 protecting the rights of the most vulnerable in society, including persons like the defendants in this contempt matter.”

Mentally ill criminal defendants in Oregon must be afforded treatment that guarantees they are competent to stand trial. If the trial court questions a defendant’s competency, ORS 161.365 authorizes the court to order a 30-day commitment to the Oregon State Hospital (OSH) for observation and assessment. The law requires transfer to OSH within seven days of a court’s commitment order.

When a court finds that a criminal defendant is unable to aid and assist in his or her own defense, it may order the defendant’s involuntary commitment to OSH under ORS 161.370. During that commitment, OSH is required to treat the defendant in an attempt to restore his or her competency to stand trial.

For many years, mentally ill criminal defendants languished in Oregon jails for lengthy periods of time awaiting admission to ...

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 Mississippi County, came as a result of a federal investigation into his practice of tracking cell phones without a warrant. Beginning in 2014, Hutcheson, who was then a deputy, applied for thousands of searches and illegally accessed information on 200 mobile phone users, according to federal prosecutors.

He abused a service provided by prison telecom company Securus Technologies that allows law enforcement agencies to obtain the GPS coordinates of cell phones. That service requires search warrants, which Hutcheson never obtained. Instead, he uploaded fake documents that he sometimes notarized himself.

“Further, the defendant had the audacity to upload entirely irrelevant documents including his health insurance policy, his auto insurance policy, and pages selected from Sheriff training manuals,” prosecutors wrote in a court pleading. This went on for three years, even after he was interviewed by FBI agents.

Hutcheson became sheriff in January 2017. In the first four months on the ...

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 ordered him and another prisoner to climb inside a recycling dumpster and compress the cardboard in it. A third prisoner reminded the guard that the prison’s own rules forbade prisoners from entering the dumpsters and that a sign on the dumpster warned against it, but the guard insisted. French was hurt when he fell upon exiting the dumpster.

French lost in the district court and argued on appeal that he had received inadequate medical treatment, but the appellate court found his argument “does not state an Eighth Amendment claim for inadequate medical care.” French also contended that the guard violated the Eighth Amendment by ordering him into the dumpster, but the Court of Appeals wrote that “... he is incorrect. Such a claim would require a substantial risk of harm that is ‘so great’ that it is ‘almost certain to materialize.’”

French further claimed that the prison’s complaint examiner and warden ...

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 extended to investments in firms that provide other correctional services, such as Securus Technologies, a prison phone service provider.

Securus is wholly owned by Platinum Equity, LLC, whose first acquisition in 1995 was LSI – a company that generated computer graphics for courtroom simulations. Platinum is currently seeking commitments from its investors for a fifth buyout fund. [See: PLN, Aug. 2019, p.22].

Bianca Tylek, founder and executive director of Worth Rises, a nonprofit that opposes commercialization of the criminal justice system, advised that investors need to be concerned about a company that has already bought an asset with considerable ethical and moral issues. She said they should first see how Platinum dealt with Securus’ “exploitable practices,” which have included charging up to $25 for a 15-minute call, requiring jails using the company’s video-calling service to restrict in-person visits, and charging excessive fees for opening, funding and closing prisoner accounts. ...

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 the jail on March 16, 2015 and placed in a common area with numerous other prisoners. Less than 24 hours later, he was attacked and beaten by at least 10 prisoners who were likely gang members. He suffered several injuries, including a broken back, broken ribs, a closed head injury and other wounds needing treatment at a hospital. Nelson was released two weeks later and, on April 20, 2016, filed a notice with the county that he planned to sue the jail.

Nelson’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on November 15, 2017, claimed that jail staff failed to do what a “reasonable, prudent” person would have done in the same situation. Specifically, he argued that the guards’ “blatant failure” to prevent the attack and their delay in stopping it “proximately caused” his injuries.

Nelson’s suit also detailed problems at the Lauderdale County ...

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 (HRRJ) in March 2019.

“They didn’t even know who we were,” said Bill Farrar, spokesman for the ACLU of Virginia. “They were just desperate.”

HRRJ Superintendent David Hackworth urged the advocates to dismiss the prisoners’ requests for help. But a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) report released in December 2018 documented horrific deaths, prisoners with serious medical and mental health problems, and repeated denials of healthcare at the jail.

In January 2013, 52-year-old Betty Wills was “actively psychotic” when she arrived at HRRJ. She also suffered from diabetes, thyroid disease and congestive heart failure. Jail staff failed to treat her and she died at a local hospital, according to the DOJ report.

On April 3, 2015, Robert Elmo Davenport was found hanging in his isolation cell at HRRJ. The 54-year-old, who had a history of major depression, had filed a grievance complaining that his request to see a psychiatrist “had been put off” ...

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 suicidal, Lancaster County Sheriff’s deputies responded along with EMS. Instead of allowing Stevens to be transported by EMS for an evaluation, deputies D. Dailey and A. Lloyd, who did not have any medical training, took Stevens to jail. Only after he complained of chest pain was he taken to a hospital.

Two hours later, Stevens, who according to toxicology reports and security video footage was “grossly intoxicated,” refused treatment at the hospital and was transported to the jail, according to court pleadings.

During an intake medical screening, deputies Dailey and Lloyd kept harassing and inciting Stevens to the point he was uncooperative, and the screening was never completed. Stevens was placed not in a suicide watch cell or even the “drunk tank,” but in a cell down a hallway that did not have direct observation by guards. Dailey and Lloyd also reportedly neglected to tell jail staff that Stevens was suicidal.

There 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.34]. The law also resulted in the reduction of 1,691 federal prison sentences, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC).

The largest group of those released were drug offenders like Norah Yahya. The 40-year-old spent 18 years in prison after her first conviction at age 22 for dealing marijuana. Along the way she earned a college degree and even held a job before her second imprisonment for selling crack cocaine.

“I just fell right back into the same stream of choices. I wanted to be released, but I had no preparations upon release,” said Yahya, adding that now, “I want to live.”

The reduced sentences were for federal prisoners left out of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act (FSA). The FSA was not applied retroactively, but the First Step Act explicitly extended its provisions to pre-2010 sentences. The USSC said 25 percent of those sentence reductions were granted to prisoners whose cases originated ...

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 court appointed Sarah Geraghty with the Southern Center for Human Rights to represent him. After two amended complaints and 18 months of discovery, the parties agreed in December 2018 to certify a settlement class and resolve the injunctive and declaratory claims in the complaint.

The case challenged conditions in the SMU and procedures that kept prisoners there. It alleged that solitary confinement, which was defined as 22 hours or more each day without meaningful human contact, presented a substantial risk of serious psychological harm to the class members. Pursuant to the settlement, prison officials will provide a minimum of four hours of out-of-cell-time per day, Monday through Friday. One hour will be in an outside recreation cage and another three will occur “using restraint tables.”

The class members will receive computer tablets that contain “educational materials, games, books, and similar activities.” Prisoners can obtain materials from the Georgia Diagnostic Library, ...

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 Colorado in federal court, alleged the CDOC “intentionally and systematically delays and denies necessary medical care” to prisoners with HCV. The pleadings in the case detailed the prison system’s policy of severely restricting treatment to just dozens of the thousands of state prisoners infected with the disease. Such inaction, the lawsuit said, evidenced the CDOC’s “deliberate indifference to prisoners’ serious medical needs,” in violation of their constitutional rights.

To understand how serious of a problem HCV is in prison, the complaint provided some sobering facts. An estimated 3.2 million people are infected with HCV in the U.S., which in 2013 caused more deaths than 60 other infectious diseases combined. In 2017, over 11 percent of the CDOC’s approximately 20,100 prisoners were known to be HCV-positive.

Treatment for HCV used to consist of a combination of drugs that caused major side-effects with less than a 60 percent success rate. In 2013, ...

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 be put back on, though a new undergarment in an unopened package may be screened so the attorney need not meet with her client braless.

An open letter to Sheriff Darryl Forté, signed by almost 100 criminal defense attorneys, said the new policy presented an “unreasonable and unnecessary” interference with client access. Female lawyers and their supporters, 74 in all, staged a protest of the policy in front of the courthouse on June 12, 2019, chanting “We need support!”

“This could have a chilling effect on the hiring of female attorneys in the county,” said attorney Tracy Spradlin.

Spradlin and fellow lawyer Molly Hastings said Sheriff Forté failed to show up for a meeting they had set weeks before the protest was staged.

“This is something that could be corrected immediately, with a secondary security policy that we can all agree on, with ideas that we have all suggested that ...

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 the rural area where the facility is located, which borders Texas. GEO said it steadily lost employees to higher-paying state prison jobs in New Mexico and across the border. However, it agreed to a 90-day extension of its contract, which expired in August 2019, to allow for a transition to state control of the facility.

GEO Group worked with the town of Clayton to design the 180,000-square-foot, 625-bed prison, which opened in 2008. The town owns the facility and GEO has operated it since then. The company also manages two other prisons in New Mexico: the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility in Santa Rosa and the Lea County Correctional Center in Hobbs.

Including the Northeast New Mexico Detention Facility, five of the 11 prisons in New Mexico are privately operated, with CoreCivic and Management & Training Corporation each running one. Unique among the states, over half of New Mexico’s prison population ...

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 request by saying he wasn’t dying fast enough.

Shortly after Steve Alan Brittner was sentenced to 48 months in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. He filed for compassionate release but was denied by the BOP because his life expectancy exceeded his remaining sentence. In October 2018, just seven months after his diagnosis, doctors told Brittner his prognosis was “poor,” and the following month they advised him to stop treatment and start end-of-life care with hospice.

When Brittner submitted another request for compassionate release, BOP officials again said his cancer wasn’t spreading fast enough; additionally, they claimed he could still care for himself. His request was denied.

But the First Step Act, enacted a month later, allowed Brittner to seek compassionate release from the sentencing court. The federal district court had no problem finding that he qualified for compassionate release.

In its objections, the ...

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 appeal of James Bailey-Snyder, who was found by guards at FCI-Schuylkill to be in possession of a seven-inch plastic shank. He was placed in the Special Handling Unit (SHU) while the FBI investigated. Ten months later, Bailey-Snyder was indicted on one count of possession of a prohibited object in prison.

He moved to dismiss the June 2016 indictment, arguing violations of his speedy trial rights. The Pennsylvania federal district court denied the motion. A jury found Bailey-Snyder guilty despite his argument that two guards had planted the shank in order to capitalize on the BOP’s “incentive programs for recovering contraband.” He was sentenced to 30 months in prison consecutive to his underlying conviction, and appealed.

On May 3, 2019, the Third Circuit found that Bailey-Snyder’s speedy trial argument was one of first impression. At issue was whether he was entitled to dismissal of the charge because the 10 months and ...

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 of inmate and staff exposures to unknown substances.” [See: PLN, Dec. 2018, p.1].

Prison officials claimed those substances were synthetic drugs, such as fentanyl or K2, sprayed onto letters sent to prisoners. Toxicologists raised serious doubts as to whether that was correct, however, and the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that some experts believed “one likely diagnosis for the staff illnesses may be ‘mass psychogenic illness’ – that is, a sort of contagious hysteria fueled by fears of dangerous exposure.”

Regardless, the PDOC enlisted a Florida company, Smart Communications, to handle incoming correspondence. The new mail policy involves a “scan-send-print-deliver” service that requires prisoner mail to be sent to Smart Communications’ location in Florida. The company then opens the mail and scans it, and it is printed at the prison and delivered to the prisoner.

According to Claire Shubik-Richards, executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, prisoners have complained about not ...

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 been resolved. [See: PLN, July 2018, p.1]. However, the recent death of a 29-year-old state prisoner, caused by hyperthermia, revealed that excessive heat remains a concern.

Seth Donnelly was seven years into a 12-year sentence for intoxication manslaughter. He was a trusty assigned to the Robertson Unit, whose job as a “runner” was to lay scent trails for the prison’s bloodhounds and fight them if they caught him. To protect himself from the dogs, he wore a 75-pound anti-bite suit. The suit’s padding acted like insulation.

Four days prior to his June 23, 2019 death, Donnelly wrote to a friend complaining about the heat. “Very hot day and tomorrow is supposed to be 102,” he said. “There that Texas heat is. I’m exhausted and I may have gotten a little too much sun as I’m a little red.” Donnelly had previously told his mother, Deborah, that the guards didn’t ...

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 the federal Bureau of Prisons. Additionally, 31 states allow DNA to be collected from arrestees, according to DNA Saves – a nonprofit that advocates for the practice in order to more quickly catch repeat offenders.

“I’m not concerned about violating their civil rights because by committing a crime, they’re violating someone else’s rights,” reasoned Shea Sumner, an Oklahoma resident whose former fiancé was rearrested in 2018 following an earlier felony conviction.

Louisiana was the first state to pass such a law in 1997. A similar statute went into effect at the federal level in 2009. Without fanfare, Oklahoma began collecting DNA from felony arrestees in 2018, implementing a bill passed by the state legislature two years earlier. As a result, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) estimates that the 8,000 DNA samples it had been collecting every year from convicted prisoners would swell to about 20,000 due to the ...

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 clammy, her vital signs were off and she had severe abdominal pain. The nurses ignored her and she never saw a doctor. Two days later she was dead. Jail officials said they suspected a drug overdose, but the Montgomery County Coroner reported she “died of an acute small bowel obstruction.” Garvin’s family filed a wrongful death suit in May 2018, raising medical negligence claims against five nurses and a NaphCare doctor. According to attorney Douglas Brannon, mediation in the case was canceled in February 2019 and, “[b]ased upon some things we’ve learned in the discovery process,” Sheriff Rob Streck and the Montgomery County commissioners were added as defendants. There have been at least 11 lawsuits filed against the jail and its staff in recent years.

California: After initially pleading not guilty in October 2018 to charges of felony assault and misdemeanor sexual battery of a female prisoner while ...