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Prison Legal News: October, 2020

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Volume 31, Number 10

In this issue:

  1. The Toughest Love (p 1)
  2. From the Editor (p 14)
  3. $400,000 Settlement in Lawsuit over Kentucky Prisoner’s Starvation Death (p 15)
  4. Why Did 77 Ohio Prisoners Die of COVID-19, but Just 10 in Pennsylvania? (p 16)
  5. New York Jail Accused of Discrimination by Female Prisoners (p 20)
  6. BOP Inspector General Rips State for Failure to Control COVID-19 at Lompoc in California (p 20)
  7. Dark Web Creator Petitions President Trump for Clemency (p 21)
  8. Growing Need to Protect Attorney-Client Emails (p 22)
  9. Prison Postcard: Life in the Time of COVID, Correctional Center, Virginia (p 22)
  10. New York Governor Cuomo Creates Prison Nursing Home During Pandemic (p 24)
  11. GEO Group and CoreCivic Lose Critical Financial Support (p 24)
  12. Danish Funds Invest In American Private Prisons (p 26)
  13. $12.5 Million Settlement for Oklahoma Prisoner’s In-Custody Death Riled Sheriff’s Race (p 26)
  14. Philadelphia Jails to Release Prisoners Earlier in the Day (p 27)
  15. Wisconsin Supreme Court Reverses “Dangerousness” Finding in Involuntary Commitment of Schizophrenic Man (p 28)
  16. Michigan Settles Sex Abuse Claims by 1,300 Former Juvenile Offenders Housed With Adults for $80 Million (p 28)
  17. Report: New Jersey Women’s Prison Promoted Culture of Abuse (p 30)
  18. Missouri Downsizing Prisons to Save Cash (p 30)
  19. Trump v. Biden on Criminal Justice (p 32)
  20. Alaska Supreme Court Upholds Dismissal of Delusional Prisoner’s Medical Malpractice Claim (p 36)
  21. $300,000 a Year Not Enough to Convince Psychiatrists to Work in California Prisons (p 38)
  22. DC Federal Court Enters Partial Preliminary Injunction Against District Jails For COVID-19 Deficiencies (p 38)
  23. Damage to South Carolina Prisons Shifts Prisoners to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania (p 40)
  24. Poetry for the Prisoners’ Soul (p 40)
  25. Offensive Facebook Posts Cost Wisconsin Warden His Job (p 41)
  26. More Than Half of Chicago’s COVID-19 Cases Linked to Cook County Jail (p 42)
  27. Mother of Decapitated Prisoner Sues California Prison Officials for Housing Her Son with Prisoner Who Tried to Murder Previous Cellmate (p 42)
  28. Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules Unconstitutional Statute Authorizing Forcible Medication of Involuntarily Committed Prisoner (p 43)
  29. Wildfires Threaten Prisoners in West, While New California Law Helps Prisoner-Firefighters to Continue Work After Release (p 44)
  30. National Guard Called in to Help Run Indiana State Prisons (p 46)
  31. Eleventh Circuit Reinstates Pay-To-Vote for Florida Felons Who Completed Sentences (p 46)
  32. Ford Foundation President’s Support to Replace Rikers With Other Jails Criticized (p 48)
  33. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994: 25 Years Later, Where Do We Stand? (p 48)
  34. California Judge Reconsiders Six Months’ Jail for Cookie Theft at Rehab Program (p 49)
  35. Conditions at South Carolina Juvenile Facility Unconstitutional (p 50)
  36. How Kamala Harris’ Orange County, California “Snitch” Scandal Investigation Imploded (p 50)
  37. First Wrongful Death Claim Against San Quentin Prison Filed Over COVID-19 Death (p 52)
  38. $420,000 Settlement in Lawsuit Over Opioid Withdrawal Death in Georgia Jail (p 52)
  39. Theft, Lies and Bribes Force California Warden’s Early Retirement, $11,500 Monthly Pension (p 54)
  40. Lawsuit Over Hellish 9-Day Prisoner Transport Reinstated (p 54)
  41. Seventh Circuit Protects Guards Who Allegedly Failed to Protect Wisconsin Prisoner (p 55)
  42. Mental Health and Prison Systems in Major Need of Reform (p 56)
  43. Bloomberg Allies Make $20 Million Push to Help Enfranchise 30,000 Florida Ex-Felons (p 56)
  44. NYC Floating Jail May Finally be Closed (p 57)
  45. New Study Shows “Tough on Crime” Generation Spent More Time in Prison Despite Falling Crime Rate (p 58)
  46. Fourth Circuit Holds South Carolina DOC Lawyers Entitled to Qualified Immunity (p 58)
  47. Beltway Sniper Marries in Prison (p 59)
  48. Fifth Circuit Reinstates Lawsuit Over Texas Jail Prisoner’s Death (p 60)
  49. Prisoners Evacuated but ICE Detainees in Louisiana Suffer During Hurricane Laura (p 60)
  50. Fifth Circuit Upholds Dismissal of Texas Jail Suicide Lawsuit, Holds Discrimination Not Proven (p 62)
  51. News in Brief (p 62)

The Toughest Love

For Nearly 50 Years, the Delancey Street Foundation Has Offered an Alternative to Prison.
But Does the Celebrated Program Really Work?

by Julia Lurie, Mother Jones

The headquarters of the Delancey Street Foundation occupies a piece of prime real estate near the base of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge, tucked between luxury condominiums and ritzy waterfront eateries. The 400,000-square-foot, four-story complex looks like a Disneyfied Mediterranean villa, with red tile roofs, flower boxes, and sun-filled windows overlooking the bustling waterfront. Inside are 177 dorms, a pool, a movie theater, and an unpretentious restaurant known as a hangout for local dignitaries. Rep. Nancy Pelosi described the facility as “the living room of the city.”

On a third-floor wall hang dozens of framed photos of “hot shots who like us”—a who’s who of California’s Democratic elite and celebrities of a certain vintage, posing with Delancey’s co-founder and CEO, Mimi Silbert. With her big auburn hair and infectious smile, she’s pictured with Hillary and Bill Clinton, Kamala Harris, former Mayor Willie Brown, Colin Powell, Tony Blair, Clint Eastwood, and Jane Fonda. The grip-and-grins are a tribute to Delancey’s reputation as one of the nation’s highest-profile self-help organizations, known for bringing countless lives back from ...

From the Editor

We seem to be settling in for the long haul on COVID in American prisons and jails. The big takeaway is that the government’s attitude is to pretty much keep everyone locked up and hope for the best, and if a bunch of prisoners die, it’s not that big of a deal. The number of state and federal prisoners who have been released due to COVID concerns is ...

$400,000 Settlement in Lawsuit over Kentucky Prisoner’s Starvation Death

by Matt Clarke

In February 2020, WDRB News revealed a previously undisclosed $400,000 settlement paid by the Kentucky Department of Corrections (DOC) to the family of a state prisoner who starved to death while in segregation at the Kentucky State Penitentiary (KSP).

James Kenneth Embry,57, died of starvation and dehydration at KSP on January 13, 2014. He had served four years of a nine-year sentence for drug and assault-related charges.

Embry had asked to be placed in segregation five weeks earlier, saying he feared for his safety, according to WDRB and court records from a lawsuit his family filed in 2016. He had a long history of mental illness. Despite this, KSP medical staff from CorrectCare-Integrated Health (CC-IH) took him off his medications this request four months before he was placed in segregation.

Medical and security staff decided Embrymust owe money, and fear of the people he owed caused him to ask to be placed in segregation. When he repeatedly asked to be placed back on his mediations because he was feeling“anxious and paranoid,” they ignored his requests.

Likewise, they decided that he was just angling for change in housing when he stopped accepting meals. This was despite the fact ...

Why Did 77 Ohio Prisoners Die of COVID-19, but Just 10 in Pennsylvania?

A look at how overcrowding and poor design contributed to two of the worst national outbreaks

by Cid Standifer and Brie Zeltner, Eye on Ohio, Aug. 21, 2020

This article was provided by Eye on Ohio, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ohio Center for Journalism. Please join our free mailing list as this helps us provide more public service reporting.

For the first two months after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., Ohio’s response set an example. Thanks to an early shutdown order, the state’s per-capita deaths from the virus as of late April were less than half of those in neighboring Pennsylvania, a state with similar demographics.

But inside the two states’ prison systems, it was a different story.

By late April, the death rate from COVID-19 in Ohio prisons was 22 per 100,000, a rate more than 4 ½ times the overall Ohio rate and nearly twice the national rate.

As of August 14, there have been 77 inmate deaths known to be caused by COVID-19, and another 10 suspected— a rate of 160 deaths per 100,000 people. Ohio’s prisons have incubated two of the four largest COVID outbreaks in the nation.

In Pennsylvania’s prison system, which houses about 44,000 ...

New York Jail Accused of Discrimination by Female Prisoners

n March 2020, the Oneida County Correctional Facility in New York was accused of discrimination against the women who are housed there. Two months prior to that, all the women were moved from pods that offered the same privileges as men to two wings of a unit last used for disciplinary segregation.

The reasons stated for the move by county Sheriff Rob Maciol were a declining female population and a state order requiring the separation of “at-risk” women from the general population.

Guards came into the women’s pod on January 22 and told them to pack their property. Prisoners stated that they were then moved to an older section of the jail that still had the surfaces “covered with toilet paper, feces, and urine.”

It contained a closed-in recreation yard that they were given access to only one hour per day, smaller living spaces with no privacy for the toilets; tainted water; only one shower, and no access to video-chat services on facility tablets.

Upon entering Henry Block unit, the women were split up. Those considered to have medical or mental health issues or guilty of serious offenses were housed in Henry Left and all the others ...

BOP Inspector General Rips State for Failure to Control COVID-19 at Lompoc in California

The 36-page, July 23, 2020 report found that continuing medical staff shortages and failure to follow BOP national guidelines for detection and treatment of COVID-19 put the Lompoc prison complex in a state of crisis, which had been beginning to abate in summer.

After two guards apparently introduced the virus into the prisons in February or March of 2020, it spread rapidly, and at one point over 75% of the prisoners at the FCI were found to be infected. According to a previous story in Prison Legal News [PLN, June 2020, p.32], “Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Lompoc, located in Santa Barbara County, holds 1,162 low-security prisoners, of whom 911 had tested positive for the novel Coronavirus that causes the disease … the highest number of cases in any BOP prison.”As of mid-July, more than 1,000 inmates had tested positive and four had died.

All of this came after March 2020 when Attorney General William Barr directed the BOP ...

Dark Web Creator Petitions President Trump for Clemency

Somewhat analogous to Star Wars’ young Aniken Skywalker’s journey to the Dark Side of The Force, Ulbricht’s Silk Road moved to the Dark Web. Silk Road quickly became a virtual hotspot for selling all manner of illegal goods, including narcotics, fake passports, and credit card information.

During Silk Road’s short-lived tenure between 2011 and 2013, it reputedly became the world’s largest virtual black-market economy. Paying for the illicit items available on Silk Road was accomplished through Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency. Ulbricht had reportedly made more than $100 million by the time he was arrested in 2013.

As Ulbricht’s 2015 trial for money laundering, conspiracy, and computer hacking progressed, allegations of six murder-for-hire plots were brought up. During final arguments, the prosecutor told the jury none of the alleged contract murders ever happened. Why then bring unadjudicated offenses before a petit jury to support the charged offenses that culminated in two life-without-parole ...

Growing Need to Protect Attorney-Client Emails

“It’s common attorney sense, a bedrock of American law: when your attorney communicates with you, that’s supposed to be privileged,” said Jumana Musa, director of the Fourth Amendment Center at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL). 

Common sense or not, that principle has not stopped federal prosecutors from prying into electronic communications to pursue convictions. The practice dates to at least 2011 when an incarcerated former Pennsylvania state senator’s emails to his attorneys were used as evidence to lengthen his sentence.  

An assistant U.S. attorney in New York’s Eastern District warned defense lawyers in June 2014 that such communications were fair game, writing that “emails between inmates and their attorneys ... are not privileged, and thus the office intends to review all emails.”

A bipartisan bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives on Sept. 21, 2020, seeks to end this practice by barring emails from prisoners to their lawyers from being monitored. 

The Effective Assistance of Counsel in ...

Prison Postcard: Life in the Time of COVID, Correctional Center, Virginia

The first round of testing was done in late May, with the National Guard’s help, inmates and staff alike. Everyone was locked down for a week while we awaited results. Around 250 inmates and 60 staff tested positive, roughly 8 to 10 percent of both populations. For a couple of months after that, when prisoners developed symptoms, they were removed from the cellblocks, quarantined, and monitored.

There was an entire building of sick and quarantined inmates on another part of the compound, though the official numbers didn’t appear to reflect that. Officially, one person has died from the virus here, according to DOC website — but two other recent deaths may have been virus-related. One of them was wheeled down the walk with CPR being performed on him as many of us watched from the rec yard. ...

New York Governor Cuomo Creates Prison Nursing Home During Pandemic

In June 2020, 96 elderly male prisoners were transferred to the Adirondack Correctional Facility in the mountainous North Country of New York State. Three years ago, the facility was converted to house teenagers prosecuted as adults, but the young prisoners were all transferred out to create a place to house vulnerable prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the North Country area has seen some of the lowest rates of infection in the state, at least one of the elderly prisoners was confirmed to have the virus shortly after arriving despite (being at that time) asymptomatic.

There are two places that have seen higher than average rates of infections and deaths compared to the general population: prisons and nursing homes. At the Adirondack facility, Cuomo has merged the worst of both worlds to create an extremely dangerous situation. Not only are these men at increased risk for severe symptoms of the virus due to their age, but their conditions of confinement ...

GEO Group and CoreCivic Lose Critical Financial Support

But they also stand out for another reason: Like other corporations accused of prioritizing profits over people, both firms have been plagued by allegations of controversial business practices. Critics claim that the public-private partnerships through which the companies take over prison operations actually serve to line the pockets of politicians in exchange for regulatory concessions that curb oversight and protect the industry’s financial bottom line – all at the expense of the prisoners they are charged to oversee.

That, however, may soon be coming to an end.

Criminal justice activists have long sought, without success, to dismantle the private prison industry. Their efforts have been thwarted, in large measure, by an apathetic public with little appetite for addressing issues related to mass incarceration in America. But with the 2018 immigration crisis, that began to change. Images of children being separated from their families and the abysmal conditions inside ...

Danish Funds Invest In American Private Prisons

A February 18, 2020 story by Danwatch, a Danish investigative website, uncovered three Danish pension funds that had invested into two of America’s biggest prison profiteers: CoreCivic and the GEO Group. PKA, Villiv, and Lærernes Pension are pension funds for Danish social educators, social workers, nurses, and medical secretaries.

PKA invested the equivalent of about $8.5 million in the two private prison companies. Lrernes Pension has invested about $1.1 million in CoreCivic, and Villi invested about $160,000 in the two companies.

The Denmark pension fund investments come as America’s largest pension funds and banks have increasingly divested themselves from these prison profiteers. Politically, the companies are becoming pariahs, as some state Democratic parties and political groups are refusing to accept donations from private prison companies.

American public opinion of private prison companies has been trending against the profiteers. The Obama administration issued an executive order to phase out federal use of private prisons, but that order was reversed by President Trump. Both CoreCivic and GEO Group ...

$12.5 Million Settlement for Oklahoma Prisoner’s In-Custody Death Riled Sheriff’s Race

Sheriff Jody Helm, Deputy Darrell Momsen and their fellow candidate Cory Rink all promised more training and transparency. Helm was appointed after the April 2018 death of acting Sheriff Rick Fagan, who had been tapped for the job when former Sheriff Jerry Niles went on administrative leave during the investigation into Huff’s death.

Niles and his daughter-in-law, Jennifer, the jail’s former administrator, together with Turn Key Health Clinic employee Lela June Goatley, allegedly left Huff in a restraint chair for two-and-a-half days without access to medication or medical treatment. The 58-year-old, who had been arrested on a public intoxication charge, died on June 8, 2016, of chronic alcoholism. Jennifer Niles, along with jailers Shawn Caleb Galusha and John Robert Markus, later pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter charges and served 55 hours in jail.

Huff’s arrest on June 4, 2016, was not his first visit to Garfield County Detention Center ...

Philadelphia Jails to Release Prisoners Earlier in the Day

The information was revealed in a series of stories in August 2020 by The Philadelphia Inquirer. Following publication, Prison Commissioner Blanche Carney said, “Anyone released after the close of their facility’s Cashier’s Office will now receive their property at their facility.”

Ann Jacobs, director of the Prisoner Reentry Institute at New York City’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said, “This is a good example of a system listening and responding in a way that looks like it will make a big difference.” Making sure that the changes are permanent will require “collaborative vigilance,” said Jacobs.

‘‘You can’t rest on your laurels. What we know about any kind of systems change is that it changes as long as it’s being observed and measured.”

Philly jails’ spokesperson Mallie Salerno stated that every person released from jail will ...

Wisconsin Supreme Court Reverses “Dangerousness” Finding in Involuntary Commitment of Schizophrenic Man

D.J.W. was subjected to a January 30, 2017 commitment order from the Langlade County Circuit Court to the custody of the County for six months. The court also ordered involuntary psychotropic medication and treatment. The County sought recommitment for one year as the expiration of the initial commitment period approached. Dr. John T. Coates was appointed to examine D.J.W. He and D.J.W were the only witnesses at the hearing.

The Circuit Court determined that D.J.W. was a danger to himself and was incapable of making an informed choice to accept or refuse medication. It granted recommitment and involuntary medication for one year. D.J.W. appealed.

The court of appeals affirmed, concluding the finding of D.J.W.’s dangerousness “was not clearly erroneous.” The Wisconsin Supreme Court granted D.J.W.’s petition for review.

In Wisconsin, involuntary commitment is regulated ...

Michigan Settles Sex Abuse Claims by 1,300 Former Juvenile Offenders Housed With Adults for $80 Million

On January 29, 2020, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) agreed to pay $80 million to resolve a class action lawsuit filed by juveniles who were housed in adult facilities where they were allegedly subjected to sexual assault and other harms.

The action consolidated in state court numerous lawsuits filed against MDOC in both state and federal courts. The class included persons incarcerated in MDOC while younger than 18 at any time during the period from October 15, 2010 to February 24, 2020. All of these juveniles were charged, convicted, and sentenced as adults, and MDOC placed them in adult facilities upon receiving them.

The complaint contained allegations related to 12 “John Doe” prisoners, all of whom alleged they were anally raped or coerced to engage in anal or oral sex, sometimes by guards but most often by adult prisoners with whom the juveniles were housed and left to fend for themselves. The events they described read like lurid movie portrayals of new prisoners being “fresh meat.” [See PLN, April 2020, p.50.]

John Doe #2 reported a physical assault and sexual harassment while at Oaks Correctional Facility in 2011. He was placed in solitary ...

Report: New Jersey Women’s Prison Promoted Culture of Abuse

After years of allegations of sexual assault against prisoners, the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ and the USAO initiated an investigation April 26, 2018 under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA). The Act was designed to protect prisoners from facilities exhibiting a pattern or practice that resulted in violations of the prisoners’ civil rights. The report investigated 70 separate instances of alleged sexual abuse at EMCFW over several years, with many guards and employees being charged, suspended or fired. Between 2016 and 2019, seven EMCFW guards and “one civilian employee” had been convicted or pleaded guilty ...

Missouri Downsizing Prisons to Save Cash

Budget director Dan Haug said, ‘‘What they are doing is they are consolidating space within various prisons around the state, closing certain housing units and those types of things.”

The Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) housed 33,000 prisoners in 2017; the January 2020 prison population stood at 26,000. Changes in the state’s criminal code, replacing incarceration with probation in many cases, accounts for the drop in population.

DOC spokesperson Karen Pojmann noted that the plan will close housing units at Northeast Correctional Center in Bowling Green, Farmington Correctional Center, Boonville Correctional Center, Algoa Correctional Center in Jefferson City, Tipton Correctional Center, and Western Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in St. Joseph.

“Closing housing units reduces staffing needs and enables the department to more effectively and efficiently staff facilities, boost safety and reduce mandatory overtime,” Pojmann said. “We’re hoping these changes also can reduce staff stress and improve retention.”

In addition to removing 1,756 beds for prisoners, the plan will also obviate the need for filling 131 currently vacant staff positions. It will save ...

Trump v. Biden on Criminal Justice

“If we catch a drug dealer – death penalty.” – President Donald J. Trump, 2018

“Lock the S.O.B.s up.” – Former Senator Joe Biden, 1994

As protests and calls for police reforms continue in response to police shootings of unarmed suspects, both the Republican and Democratic parties seem to be on the same page: How do we maintain the status quo and strengthen the police state while pacifying the population. But even with these views in mind, the question of how each candidate, if elected, would deal with criminal justice reform needs to be examined. Since 1992 PLN has compared presidential candidates track records on criminal justice issues and the consistent result is two empty bottles with different labels. One reason the U.S. has a mass incarceration problem and an overwhelming police state is the bipartisan consensus in creating and sustaining it. This election is no different.

The problem starts for each candidate at different points in time, in different eras, and with divergent factors contributing to their positions. While it would be nice to say that one party is better for criminal justice reform, this isn’t possible. The only difference is asking whether ...

Alaska Supreme Court Upholds Dismissal of Delusional Prisoner’s Medical Malpractice Claim

Adam Israel had been in custody of the state Department of Corrections (DOC) since 2005 for the stabbing death of his mother. Based on a clinical diagnosis of schizophrenia – he claimed that family members, possibly including comedian Steve Martin, had conspired to keep him in state custody to prevent him from testifying to rapes and murders they had committed – he was held in a mental institution.

In October 2014, he filed a pro se medical malpractice lawsuit, claiming that he was “fraudulently diagnosed” as schizophrenic, and that this had prevented him from release on parole and other rehabilitative progress. He said the delusions he suffers are actually real, claiming that he could see electro-magnetic fields emitted from “poltergeists” because of a genetic mutation resulting from family inbreeding.

Israel asked the court to allow him to demonstrate, but Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffner called his testimony “bizarre and, at least from a lay perspective, consistent with that of someone suffering from paranoid ...

$300,000 a Year Not Enough to Convince Psychiatrists to Work in California Prisons

Despite an offer of a $300,000 annual salary plus government benefits, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has yet to convince psychiatrists to fill the vacancies in the prison system. About 40 percent of the state’s psychiatry jobs are empty, including those at the state’s prison and mental health institutions, according to data from 2018, the last year the numbers were available from CDCR 

Elizabeth Gransee, a spokesperson for California Correctional Healthcare Services, said the vacancy rate is 28 percent if accounting for contract psychiatrists, including those who treat via telepsychiatry video conferencing. “We are continuously improving recruitment of health care staff including mental health care providers,” she responded in an email to the Sacramento Bee. “[CDCR] continues to make substantial improvements in the delivery of health care and we will continue to ensure our population has access to the care they need.” 

Dr. Stuart Bussey disagrees. He is the president of the Union of American Physicians and Dentists, and says that in addition to ...

DC Federal Court Enters Partial Preliminary Injunction Against District Jails For COVID-19 Deficiencies

However, the court concluded, “the Court finds that some of the relief requested by Plaintiffs, such as the immediate release of inmates and the appointment of a downsizing expert, is inappropriate at this time on the current factual record.”

The court had initially ordered the jail “to provide a list of the names of the approximately 94 prisoners who had been sentenced to misdemeanors and who could be released; the numbers of people who had been tested for COVID-19 and a break-down of the identities of those individuals ... and the results of those tests; the date on which Defendants began testing people coming into the jails; the number and a breakdown of the results of COVID-19 tests which had been done on those who were incarcerated prior to the date on which Defendants began testing all incoming inmates; (and) all relevant ...

Damage to South Carolina Prisons Shifts Prisoners to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania

Speaking on condition of anonymity to spare loved ones retaliation from the BOP, the family members were highly critical of the decision, arguing that it put prisoners at risk. Heightening their anxiety was the ever-present risk of COVID-19, which has made all prisoner transfers problematic, and even before the storm, the virus had forced the federal prison system to end all in-person visits. Inquiries to the BOP by family members as to their family member’s whereabouts went unacknowledged and unanswered.

BOP staff was also concerned about the abrupt transfer to a prison that was already short on staff. Union national president Shane Fausey of Employees Council 33 said ...

Poetry for the Prisoners’ Soul

Why the focus on poetry? Poetry is a major form of literature. Literature is, in turn, one of the humanities’ main disciplines and involves heavy reading as well as writing. Studies by psychologist Raymond Mer at Canada’s York University and cognitive psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto published in 2006 and 2009 have shown that people with humanities-centered educations are more receptive to and empathetic where it comes to their fellow humans.

The University of Houston-Clear Lake offers a humanities-based Behavioral Science bachelor’s degree and master’s degree programs to prisoners at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Ramsey Unit. Recidivism rates for UHCL’s bachelor’s degree earners is 5.6 percent and for its master’s degree earners ...

Offensive Facebook Posts Cost Wisconsin Warden His Job

Schneiter posted two memes on Facebook last July, which were reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. One compared a Muslim woman and child, both in black burkas, to bags of trash. The other equated the flying of the gay pride rainbow flag with the flying of the Confederate flag. After the newspaper story was published, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes tweeted that Schneiter should not have compared Muslims to garbage and that he was the one who had “to be taken out.”

Schneiter, represented by attorney Nate Cade, said the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation did not establish just cause to fire him. Its investigation into the incident was not thorough, objective or fair, he said, and the postings did not represent his personal views. He claimed he was simply stimulating discussion and debate on the topics. He pointed to his posting of the gay pride flag at the Kenosha Correctional Center in response to Governor Tony Ever’s declaration of June as Pride Month as evidence in support of ...

More Than Half of Chicago’s COVID-19 Cases Linked to Cook County Jail

The study examined the relationship between jail cycling and community infections across different neighborhoods in the state of Illinois, one of the nation’s largest jails. That data showed that as of April 19, 2020, almost 1 in 6 coronavirus cases in the state were linked to people who cycled through the Cook County Jail in Chicago in March.

Jail cycling happens when people are arrested for minor infractions and put in jail for a short time and then released. According to studies, about 95 percent of people booked into jails across the country were arrested for non-violent crimes, and 42 percent were proven innocent. The numbers add up fast. According to the FBI, about 28,000 people are arrested every single day in this country. That means over 10 million people are arrested and cycled through a county jail every year in the U.S.

Jail cycling has ...

Mother of Decapitated Prisoner Sues California Prison Officials for Housing Her Son with Prisoner Who Tried to Murder Previous Cellmate

CDCR prisoner Luis Romero was transferred from another prison to Corcoran, which has a lengthy history of violence. According to a court document, instead of following the usual procedure of having a committee of prison administrators find appropriate housing for Romero, taking into consideration whether a potential cellmate was an appropriate fit, and having both prisoners sign forms agreeing to be housed with one another, they simply placed him in a cell with Jamie Osuna, a prisoner with a lengthy history of extreme violence.

While in jail, Osuna had attempted to murder his cellmate. His continuing violent misconduct had resulted in his being housed without a cellmate since his arrival at the CDCR seven years earlier. ...

Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules Unconstitutional Statute Authorizing Forcible Medication of Involuntarily Committed Prisoner

C.S. suffers from schizophrenia. He was convicted of mayhem as a repeat offender and sentenced to 10 years of extended supervision. Then the state filed a petition to have him involuntarily committed and medicated.

Almost a decade later, the state filed to extend C.S.’s involuntary commitment and medication. A jury found that he was mentally ill, a proper subject for treatment, in need of treatment, a state prisoner on whom less restrictive forms of appropriate treatment had been unsuccessfully attempted, and fully informed of his treatment needs and rights.

This met the requirements of Wis. Stat. § 51.20(l)(ar), permitting commitment without a determination of dangerousness, which the court did. The court also found that C.S. was incompetent to refuse medication pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 51.61(1) and ordered involuntary medication. C.S. appealed, arguing that the involuntary medication statute was facially unconstitutional.

The court of appeals affirmed. With the assistance of assistant state public defender Kaitlin A. Lamb, C.S. successfully petitioned the Wisconsin Supreme Court for review. ...

Wildfires Threaten Prisoners in West, While New California Law Helps Prisoner-Firefighters to Continue Work After Release

The new law (designated as AB 2147) allows releasees to petition the court to dismiss their convictions after completing their sentences, which would then allow them to obtain certification as an emergency medical technician (EMT), something most fire departments require to get in the door. It’s not that prisoner-firefighters couldn’t be firefighters after release, but that they couldn’t get the additional certifications to obtain actual employment after release. The state categorically barred anyone with a felony conviction from obtaining an EMT certification. Now that obstacle has been removed for some.

“Inmates who have stood on the frontlines, battling historic fires should not be denied the right to later become a professional firefighter,” Newsom said as he signed the bill into law.

Assembly member Eloise Gómez Reyes, who sponsored the bill, said the new law has a broader purpose. “Rehabilitation without strategies to ensure the formerly incarcerated have ...

National Guard Called in to Help Run Indiana State Prisons

Back in May 2020, as COVID-19 infected the nation’s prisons, the National Guard was brought in to help IDOC with detection and treatment of COVID-19 in state prisons. It was an effort to stay ahead of the game, or at least keep up with the wildfire spread of the disease. But things got out of hand and the National Guard switched from medical workers to actually running the prisons.

At first, teams of four National Guard members were deployed to Plainfield, Pendleton, and Westville Correctional Facilities. They expected to be there until the end of May, maybe a few weeks. Members with experience as EMTs, firefighters, and other health-care background were selected to bolster IDOC’s medical staff.

“These medical professional quickly augmented the governor’s efforts to reduce the impact of COVID-19 in correctional facilities during this public health crisis,” the National Guard’s website said about its work in state prisons.

By August 2020, entire National Guard units were deployed to operate some of ...

Eleventh Circuit Reinstates Pay-To-Vote for Florida Felons Who Completed Sentences

The court’s September 11, 2020, opinion was written by Chief Judge William Pryor. The case was before the court after Florida appealed U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle’s April 7, 2020, order that found Florida law constituted an “unconstitutional pay-to-vote system.” [See PLN, June 2020, p. 62.]

The controversy started when a 64.55% super-majority of voters in 2018 approved Amendment 4, which restored voting rights to people who had completed “all terms of sentence,” except those convicted of murder and sex offenses.

During its 2019 legislative session, Florida’s GOP-dominated legislature passed SB 7066. It defined that re-enfranchisement prerequisite to mean “any portion of a sentence that is contained the four corners of the sentencing document,” including “full payment of LFOs (legal financial obligations) ordered by the sentencing court as part of the sentence.” [See PLN, Oct. 2019, p. 58; Sept. 2018, p. 14]

The Eleventh Circuit divided its en banc majority opinion into three parts. The first addressed ...

Ford Foundation President’s Support to Replace Rikers With Other Jails Criticized

The Rikers jail has for years been plagued with deplorable conditions and riddled with violence from staff and prisoners alike. Unjust detentions also have been part of the jail’s makeup.

New York City has long been planning to shut it down for good. Part of that plan is to build four smaller jails throughout the city. This proposal does not sit well with many people.

Activist groups have voiced opposition, saying building more lockups for New York City will only contribute to the mass incarceration problem facing our nation as a whole. More jails and prisons are not the solution, according to those disputing Walker.

One of the biggest grassroots organizations objecting to the city’s plans, No New Jails, has pushed back Walker’s support for the new jails. More jails means more people of color will be subject ...

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994: 25 Years Later, Where Do We Stand?

Some 25 years ago, President Bill Clinton signed into law the biggest incendiary device that lit the fire of mass incarceration: The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (VCCLEA). “Gangs and drugs have taken over our streets and undermined our schools,” he said as he signed the bill into law before a wall of uniformed police officers.

Under the VCCLEA, the federal government coerced the states to adopt harsher sentences and require that prisoners serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. States that refused to go along lost out on $12.5 billion in grants ($19 billion in today’s terms) to build new prisons and bulk up police forces. Most states jumped on board.

But states had already been hiking up their sentences because violent crime was rampant in the early 1990s. So requiring even longer sentences, especially with the 85 percent rule and abolishment of parole, meant lots more prisoners in jail for lots more time. This “Truth-In-Sentencing” scheme filled prisons to capacity, prompting the prison ...

California Judge Reconsiders Six Months’ Jail for Cookie Theft at Rehab Program

He was ‘‘acclimated in groups, he was talking openly about issues that he had and how they affected his life,” said his public defender, Dana Drusinsky. “He’s a really endearing person, so [the treatment facilitators] were all proud of him.”

Then he stole a cookie.

In November 2019, Fields and other from Harbor Light were preparing food packages for charity. According to the local CBS affiliate, Fields “ate a leftover cookie without permission” and “Harbor Lights asked him to leave the program afterward.”

Fields was offered a deal: He could resume treatment if he agreed to restart the program, including the 30-day blackout period. Not wanting to lose contact with his mother, he refused the deal he saw as punishment.

The circuit court then sentenced him to six months in jail. “The treatment program is justifying it by saying that he stole and he needed to be reprimanded,” said Drusinsky. ‘The way the drug court ...

Conditions at South Carolina Juvenile Facility Unconstitutional

by David M. Reutter

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued notice on February 5, 2020 that it has found the “totality of the conditions, practices, and incidents” it discovered at Broad River Road Complex (BRRC), South Carolina’s long-term juvenile commitment facility, violated the juveniles’ Fourteenth Amendment rights.

After stating its intent in September 27, 2017, to investigate BRRC, the DOJ conducted three onsite visits, reviewed documents and videos, and conducted dozens of interviews with juveniles, staff, and management within South Carolina’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). The DOJ noted that the DJJ was very cooperative and took steps to address concerns raised on site.

This is not the first time DJJ came under scrutiny for its failure to provide constitutional conditions of confinement for juveniles committed to its custody. In the 1990s, a federal court issued an injunction requiring DJJ to implement minimally acceptable standards to remedy the unconstitutional confinement conditions at its facilities. See: Bowers v. Boyd, 876 F.Supp. 773 (D.S.C. 1995). It developed and implemented a plan that resulted in that case being terminated in 2003.

The DOJ found DJJ fails to keep the average daily population of 100 juveniles at BRRC reasonably safe from harm ...

How Kamala Harris’ Orange County, California “Snitch” Scandal Investigation Imploded

by Derek Gilna

Kamala Harris, the Democratic nominee for vice president, has long touted her law enforcement background in winning election to the offices of district attorney, California attorney general, and U.S. senator. But, serious questions have been raised about an investigation her office launched in 2015 regarding corruption in the Orange County jail.

That investigation quietly ended without any charges filed against law enforcement personnel who perjured themselves and compromised many criminal trials, resulting in numerous retrials and dismissals, as detailed by the Los Angeles Times in a January 20, 2020 story.

“Though the scandal sparked a U.S. Department of Justice investigation and led to retrials for dozens of defendants, including convicted murderers, the unexplained conclusion of the state inquiry has stirred frustration that many key players will escape accountability, the Times said.

The investigation began after a public defender probed the Orange County Sheriff’s Office practice of placing prisoner informants, or “snitches,” in cells with individuals already charged with serious crimes, hoping to elicit an unguarded confession.That violated theirconstitutional right to have an attorney present while being questioned.

Orange County public defender Scott Sanders uncovered this clearly unconstitutional practice as he reviewed discovery records given to him ...

First Wrongful Death Claim Against San Quentin Prison Filed Over COVID-19 Death

by Dale Chappell

The family of one of the prisoners who died of COVID-19 at San Quentin prison in California has filed the first wrongful death claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — against the prison. Papers filed by the family’s lawyers on September 10, 2020, detailed how prison officials ignored the risks of the coronavirus and transferred 121 prisoners to San Quentin from a known COVID-19 hotspot without testing them — and then housed those prisoners in an open dorm with San Quentin prisoners without any precautions.

In short order, more than 2,237 prisoners became infected and 26 died (one guard also died). The transferred prisoners came from the California Institution for Men in Chino, where more than 600 cases of COVID-19 were reported with at least nine deaths.

Known for being the home of California’s death row, San Quentin also houses large numbers of low-level, non-violent prisoners, with many being older and at-risk for COVID-19. One of those prisoners was Daniel Ruiz who, at age 61, had at least four identified medical problems that put him at risk for death of COVID-19, according to the papers filed. He was one of 40,000 prisoners identified across the state ...

$420,000 Settlement in Lawsuit Over Opioid Withdrawal Death in Georgia Jail

In January 2015, Amanda Helms allegedly tried to purchase hydrocodone from Cynthia Mixon, using money provided by her uncle, Herman Bill Hendricks, 57. He was arrested, along with his 32-year-old niece. Police searched Mixon’s home, finding firearms and an abundance of trash, but they did not find her. Three days later, the 51-year-old turned herself in to the Wilkinson County jail to face drug charges.

Mixon had valid prescriptions for Oxycodone, Prozac, Wellbutrin, Losartan, and Tegretol. She had been taking the Oxycodone for back pain and fibromyalgia.

Helms began suffering from opioid withdrawal soon after she arrived at the jail three days before Mixon. Jailers ignored her pleas for medical treatment and told her she needed to “dry out.”

“At no point during those nightmarish two and a half days was Ms. Mixon ever taken to see a doctor or a nurse ...

Theft, Lies and Bribes Force California Warden’s Early Retirement, $11,500 Monthly Pension

Joe Lizarraga began working for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) in 1986. He was appointed warden of the Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP) in 2013, where he was named Warden of the Year by the California Prison Industries Authority in 2017.

Lizarraga reportedly stole from the Interfaith Food Bank Thrift Store in Sutter Creek, California on September 14, 2018. Despite earning an estimated $150,000, annually, he allegedly removed price tags from merchandise, then suggested lower prices to the cashier.

When Sutter Creek police investigated the matter, Lizarraga allegedly lied to the police chief, claiming that he did not suggest prices to the clerk. He also told the chief that he purchased the equipment for his family when it was allegedly for personal financial gain.

Lizarraga wrote a $125 personal money order in an attempt to dissuade a witness from participating in a criminal prosecution and later made a second bribery attempt using prison charitable funds, according to investigative reports.

On January 25, 2019, FBI agents raided Lizarraga’s Mule Creek office, seized his computer and escorted him off the ...

Lawsuit Over Hellish 9-Day Prisoner Transport Reinstated

The lawsuit was filed by Danzel Stearns. Two ISC employees picked him up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on September 17, 2016, under contract with Union County, Mississippi, to extradite him to the county courthouse in New Albany to stand trial on a charge there. The firm, based in West Memphis, Tennessee, should have covered the 1,145-mile trip in less than 17 hours.

But instead of heading east toward Mississippi, its drivers headed west and “wandered through 13 states,” passing through some twice to pick up and drop off as many as 17 other prisoners and detainees at a time and overcrowding the van “before finally delivering a sick, sleep-deprived Stearns for prosecution on a minor drug charge,” his suit stated.

The transport made no overnight or lengthy stops. The two drivers took ...

Seventh Circuit Protects Guards Who Allegedly Failed to Protect Wisconsin Prisoner

Before the court was the appeal of prisoner Daniel A. Schillinger, who was confined at Wisconsin’s Secure Program Facility when he was assaulted on September 17, 2015. While on the recreation yard, a prisoner named Terry approached Schillinger as he was playing chess.

Terry made threats and demanded Schillinger buy canteen items for him.

Guards Randy Starkey and Josh Kiley approached and asked, “Are you guys horse playing or are you for real?” Terry responded, “No, it’s all good.”

As the recreation yard was closing, Starkey and Kiley asked Schillinger if he was going to be okay. He responded he didn’t know because Terry made threats and he did not trust him. Another prisoner overheard Starkey say that he thought there was going to be a “rumble.”

When Schillinger arrived at ...

Mental Health and Prison Systems in Major Need of Reform

Bao said that although driven by noble ideas, governments failed to replace mental health institutions with an immediate effective alternative, resulting in conditions that contributed to higher incarceration rates. People with mental illness are 4.5 times more likely to be arrested than others and their proportional presence in prisons has exceeded the rate of the general population by a factor of somewhere between three and six. In addition, prisons and jails do not have the mental health facilities or personnel necessary to properly treat these individuals. Bao called this a pseudo-criminalization of illness.

The report stated that the system provoked great ethical concerns. The Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights Director Scott Allen described it as counter-therapeutic. He said, “This is the wrong environment to try and treat people with mental illness. Very likely isolating people from their outside community and confining them to ...

Bloomberg Allies Make $20 Million Push to Help Enfranchise 30,000 Florida Ex-Felons

Computer scientist Robert Montoye noted in a New York Times opinion piece Sept. 21: “Because of an 11th Circuit appeals court ruling on Sept. 11, an estimated 774,000 Floridians who have already served their time in jail or prison are not eligible to vote in the 2020 election until they pay the fines and fees associated with their sentences.”

The funds will flow to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), run by former felons, Bloomberg said. “The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and no American should be denied that right,” he said. “Working together with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, we are determined to end disenfranchisement and the discrimination that has always driven it.” NBA star LeBron James is one of the major backers of the Coalition.

The money will aid tens of thousands of ex-felons who have served their sentences and had debt of less than $1,500, allowing them to cast ballots ...

NYC Floating Jail May Finally be Closed

As an ex-president of a local community board lamented, “Hunts Point was a place to put things that no one else wanted.”

In January 1992, tugboats pulled the Vernon C. Bain Center, a featureless five-story jail, into port. The facility, which holds 800 prisoners and has over 300 employees, did not seem out of place among the strip clubs and other eyesores that pockmarked the neighborhood at the time.

Much has changed in the intervening 28 years. Mirroring the renewal of Times Square, Hunts Point has shuttered the sex shops; violent crime has plummeted 280 percent since 1990. Next up is a planned marine terminal along the waterfront, which the city hopes will shift movement of goods from congested roadways to the East River. Part of that shift will include closing the Rain Center to free up potentially valuable real estate. ...

New Study Shows “Tough on Crime” Generation Spent More Time in Prison Despite Falling Crime Rate

The collaboration of experts from the State University of New York at Albany and the University of Pennsylvania analyzed data from 1.6 million prisoners, focusing mainly on North Carolina during 1972 to 2016, as it was representative of the idea of longer prisons sentences in an attempt to curb crime across the country.

The highly detailed study found that the crime rates for rape, aggravated assault, burglary, and other violent crimes were higher in the 1970s than in the 1990s. Yet, those adults who came of age during the 1990s had higher rates of arrest and incarceration than their counterparts just 20 years earlier.

Titled “Locking Up My Generation,” the study’s authors identified a “cohort effect” that filled the nation's prisons in record time, which they defined as a group that shares “common historical or social experiences.” To be more specific, it’s a ...

Fourth Circuit Holds South Carolina DOC Lawyers Entitled to Qualified Immunity

The Court’s August 20, 2020, opinion was issued in an appeal brought by former prisoner Marion K. Campbell, who was convicted in December 2011 of distribution of cocaine. He alleged Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment violations from a memorandum written by Chris Florian, SCDC’s deputy general counsel who interpreted the state’s Omnibus Crime Reduction and Sentencing Reform Act of 2010. Florian concluded the Act made prisoners who committed a “no parole offense” were now eligible for parole, but they were still required to serve 85% of their sentence if they were not granted parole. That interpretation was approved by David Tatarsky, SCDC’s general counsel.

Prisoner Michael Bolin challenged the memo. The South Carolina Administrative Law Court endorsed Florian’s interpretation of the Act. The South Carolina Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that under the Act an offense under S.C. Code Section 44-53-375(B) is no longer a “no parole offense.” That meant persons convicted of those offenses were eligible for work and good time credits. See: Bolin ...

Beltway Sniper Marries in Prison

Muhammad was depicted as the mastermind behind the murders. He received the death penalty and was executed in 2009. Malvo, only 17 at the time of the killings, was believed to have been heavily influenced by Muhammad. Convicted in eight of the slayings, Malvo received sentences of life without parole for each. Under current laws in Maryland and Virginia, he will never leave prison.

Malvo, a native of Jamaica, has managed to find a measure of joy and normalcy amidst his incarceration. In early March 2020, he wed a woman whom he had been writing and visiting with for the previous two years. The woman’s identity was not revealed, but two of Malvo’s attorneys described her as close to his own age and “an absolutely wonderful individual.”

Carmeta Albarus, part of Malvo’s ...

Fifth Circuit Reinstates Lawsuit Over Texas Jail Prisoner’s Death

Diana Simpson had previously attempted suicide when she told her husband she would try again by overdosing on pills. She even laid out her plan to get cash from an ATM and check into a motel where he could not find her. A few weeks later, when he noticed a withdrawal from their bank account, he became worried. But he was unable to contact her. When she missed work the next evening, he notified law enforcement.

Police in a nearby city found Simpson asleep in her car the next day, surrounded by empty beer containers and empty blister packs of medication. They asked her how much she had taken. She said, “all of it.”

After denying it to police, Simpson admitted to a medic she was trying to kill herself. She was arrested for public intoxication and ...

Prisoners Evacuated but ICE Detainees in Louisiana Suffer During Hurricane Laura

As these two wound their way inexorably toward the Louisiana and Texas coastlines, federal and state emergency management agencies prepared for the worst and prayed for the best, working feverishly around the clock. In prison-rich Jefferson County, Texas, federal and state prisons were left bereft of inhabitants as busload after busload of prisoners were evacuated.

However, to the east, a completely opposite scenario played out for many state and federal prisoners, particularly immigrant detainees held under the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency at Jackson Parish Correctional Center (JPCC) immigration jail in Jonesboro and LaSalle Correctional Center in Olla. In the wake of Hurricane Laura’s swath of utter destruction through that area, the Southern Poverty Law Center said family members reported “suffocating conditions,” including poor ventilation in the ...

Fifth Circuit Upholds Dismissal of Texas Jail Suicide Lawsuit, Holds Discrimination Not Proven

Danarian Hawkins was 27 in February 2014 when he died by hanging himself with a bedsheet in his holding cell at the jail. He had been arrested in June 2012 after allegedly threatening a man with a knife in a parking lot.

His mother, Jacqueline Smith, said she was unable to pay his $30,000 bail, so he remained in custody over a year and a half awaiting trial. He made an unsuccessful suicide attempt in April 2013, after which he spent time in the jail’s Mental Health Unit (MHU). But he was then released back into the general population at the jail.

All told, Hawkins attempted suicide at least five times at the jail—usually by hanging but once by an overdose of 100 prescribed pills he amassed by hiding them under his tongue when he was supposed to take them.

Two and a half weeks before he died, he was found attempting to hang himself using a sheet tied ...

News in Brief

Alabama: In February 2020, a grand jury in Limestone County, Alabama, returned an indictment for “possession/receipt of a controlled substance” against Travis Wales, a former guard at the Limestone County Correctional Facility in Harvest. According to Columbus, Georgia, TV station WBRL, Wales was arrested in September 2019 after a canine unit from the Investigations and Intelligence Division (IID) of the Alabama Department of Corrections (DOC) found him entering the prison with contraband: a bag of methamphetamine, a tablet of Subutex – a methadone alternative used in treating addiction – and a bottle of synthetic urine substitute called U-pass, which is used to fool a urine test. The 39-year-old Wales, a 12-year veteran of DOC, resigned immediately after his arrest. IID Director Arnaldo Mercado called the arrest “an example of our department’s proactive measures to eradicate criminal activity inside our correctional facilities.”

California: A brutal attack at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atwater, California, left an officer with the federal Bureau of Prisons kicked, beaten and stabbed with homemade knives in October 2017. Six prisoners were charged, four of whom pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, while the other two were tried in May 2019. Jonathan Mota, 37, was convicted of attempted murder, ...