by Paul Wright
Originally we were planning to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Prison Legal News (PLN) in the May 2020 issue. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic impacting prisoners and the criminal justice system we decided to postpone it until later in the year given the urgency of reporting on the pandemic. We also had planned to do events in Seattle and New York City to commemorate our 30th anniversary as we have in the past, but COVID has put a halt to in-person events.
Instead, we will do a national virtual event on December 10 to mark both International Human Rights Day and our 30th anniversary. Yale law professor and author James Forman Jr. will be our keynote speaker. Details on the event and how to attend virtually are inside this issue.
When I started PLN in 1990 I was 25 years old and three years into a life sentence. The United States had a million people locked in cages. Today, I am 55 years old and have been out of prison for 17 years, and the United States has around 2.5 million people locked in cages. In addition to having a lot more prisoners, living conditions, by every ...
by Matt Clarke
The family of a Texas detainee who died of a suicidal overdose under jailers’ noses can continue its lawsuit against Young County, Texas. That decision was handed down on April 22, 2020, by the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed in part a summary judgment in favor of the county granted by a district court in the case.
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 ...
by Paul Wright
Welcome to the 30th anniversary issue of Prison Legal News. As the cover story notes, this was slated to run in the May 2020 issue but that got pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially we had planned to skip it for this year given the pandemic itself but as COVID exposes the brutal nature of the American police state, we thought it more important than ever to mark our 30th anniversary. As noted in the ad in this issue of PLN, we will be doing a virtual event to celebrate our 30 years of publishing and advocacy on behalf of prisoners and their families around the country.
While we cannot do an in-person event this year as we had planned, a virtual event allows us to reach our supporters and lets more people know about the Human Rights Defense Center’s history in ways that doing events tied to a city do not. Author and activist Victoria Law will be the master of ceremonies for the event and Yale Law Professor James Forman Jr. will be our keynote speaker. I will be speaking at the event as well. If you do not ...
by Dale Chappell
While the coronavirus runs rampant through the country’s prisons, medical treatment for even serious problems has taken a backseat, leaving prisoners to get creative and perform their own treatment. For one New Jersey prisoner, this meant cleaning his infected wound with bleach, his family says, making them concerned for his health.
The problem started with just a small scrape on his foot, probably caused by ill-fitting boots the prison forced him to wear, Patch.com reported on June 4, 2020. Maybe this wouldn’t be a problem for most people, but for this 36-year-old man housed at the Northern State Prison in Newark, a small cut on his foot could easily turn into a life-threatening dilemma: He’s a diabetic, and any wound to his feet puts him at risk for infection that could lead to amputation.
Soon, an ugly, open wound broke out and an infection went all the way to his knee. The prison gave him some antibiotic ointment and ibuprofen for pain, plus some oral antibiotics. This didn’t work, and he developed cellulitis and borderline septicemia, a systemic and life-threatening infection that is difficult to treat even in the hospital with IV antibiotics.
Finally, he was transferred ...
by David M. Reutter
On April 23, 2020, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the grant of summary judgment to defendants in a civil rights action alleging they failed to protect a prisoner from an attack from another prisoner.
Before the court was the appeal of Nevada prisoner Robert Wilk. He was attacked by prisoner Ysaquirle Nunley on February 11, 2014, at High Desert State Prison (HDSP). Nunley, on October 20, 2013, threatened to attack and kill Wilk, who immediately reported the threat.
HDSP’s units 7 and 8 were protective units that shared a common yard. Prisoners in the units were on different schedules to use the yard, but opportunities existed for prisoners of the two units to have contact. At the time of the threat, Wilk and Nunley were housed in Unit 7.
Wilk was placed in segregation after reporting the threat. On October 30 and again in November, he attended a classification meeting where Warden Dwight Neven, Associate Warden Jennifer Nash, and caseworker Cary Leavitt were either present or represented. Wilk was informed Nunley would be placed on his “enemy list” and told he was still in disciplinary segregation. Based on that, Wilk agreed to move to ...
by David M. Reutter
In March 2020, Florida-based GEO Group formally asked the government of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, to terminate a five-year, $264 million contract, which it signed in 2018 to manage the county’s George W. Hill Correctional Facility (GWH). The firm’s request to be relieved of its obligations by year’s-end followed a February 2020 vote by the County Council to study assuming control of the 1,883-bed prison.
Since it was built in 1996 – by Wackenhut Corrections Corp., which became GEO Group in 2004 – GWH has been privately managed. Providing the first private prison in Pennsylvania, the firm bragged of saving taxpayers $30 million in construction costs while providing services on par with those in publicly operated prisons. Instead, problems and scandal have plagued GWH.
During a six-year stretch under GEO Group’s management from 2002 to 2008, 12 prisoners died, spawning a number of wrongful death lawsuits that claimed rampant understaffing had created a dangerous environment for prisoners and guards. In 2008, Community Education Centers (CEC) took over the GWH contract.
“CEC was OK,” said a guard who requested anonymity out of fear of losing his job if he spoke openly. “They didn’t want to pay overtime, so ...
by Michael D. Cohen, M.D.
It may be useful to know some more about the words epidemiologists use to describe disease statistics. Incidence refers to the number of new infections. Prevalence or “active cases” refers to the number currently infected. Infection Rate refers to the number of cases per unit of population (for example, per million population). Other measures of prevalence may also be used as indicators of the severity of the epidemic in a city or state or correctional system, such as: number currently hospitalized; number newly hospitalized, number in ICU; number on ventilator; number died. Similarly, infection rate per 1,000 persons incarcerated in a state system may be used to compare the severity of the epidemic among systems with widely differing total numbers of people imprisoned.
Infection rates are increasing rapidly throughout the U.S. At press time, the Midwest had the most rapid increase in rate of infection (steepest upward angle of the rate graph) and a higher rate of infection than ever before. In the Northeast, the current rate as of October 13 was about 95 per million population. In the Midwest, the rate was about 240 per million population. By the time you read this article, ...
by David M. Reutter
Just because prisoners get sick with COVID-19 in a jail too crowded to practice safe social distancing does not make jail officials liable because so long as they say they are doing “their best,” they can’t be guilty of “deliberate indifference” to the problem.
That was the June 15, 2020, finding by the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which vacated a preliminary injunction requiring officials at Miami’s Metro West Detention Center (Metro West), the largest jail in Florida and one of three jails run by Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitations Department (MDCRD), to employ numerous safety requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
PLN previously reported on a U.S. District Court’s grant of the preliminary injunction, as well as the Eleventh Circuit’s May 5, 2020, stay of that order. [See PLN, June 2020, page 28]. That stay was set to expire June 15, 2020, the same day the Eleventh Circuit issued its ruling.
On June 16, 2020, MDCRD reported that 592 prisoners and 123 employees at Metro West had tested positive for COVID-19. One inmate had died and 30 remained in medical isolation, while 82 employees had returned to work.
That was four days after ...
by Matt Clarke
The once self-styled “Toughest Sheriff in America” has lost a bid to reclaim the office of Maricopa County sheriff. He was defeated in the Arizona Republican primary on August 4, 2020.
The controversial Joe Arpaio earlier lost his office in the 2016 election cycle. He then tried a run for the U.S. Senate, but came in third in the 2018 Republican primary behind Martha McSally and Kelli Ward.
Arpaio, 88, was the sheriff in the county encompassing Phoenix, Arizona’s largest city, for 24 years. His focus was more on celebrity than equitable law enforcement. He was known for a disdain for civil rights—especially the civil rights of minorities.
He instituted attention-grabbing policies, such as erecting a tent city at the county’s jail to house prisoners in substandard, sweltering conditions while working in chain gangs and wearing pink-colored, jail-issued underwear.
Arpaio also instituted a policy of racially profiling Hispanics to enforce immigration laws. After he ignored a federal judge’s order to have his department stop racially profiling, Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt.
Arpaio was an early and ardent Trump supporter and, in 2017, that paid off as President Trump issued his first presidential pardon—for the criminal contempt ...
by Kevin Bliss
Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS) was forced to declare an overcrowding emergency on July 1, 2020. Capacity in the state’s 10 prisons was at 151%, exceeding the 2015 mandated 140% threshold.
In an effort to help reduce population, parole board chairwoman Roslyn Cotton said that the parole board was accelerating the number of reviews being held. She said that from January to May the board conducted 2,700 hearings and released 1,546 to parole. Nebraska ACLU communications director Sam Petto said, “Cotton proudly noted that three-fifths are granted parole, but to us we kind of put that on its head and say you say 40% aren’t ready to enter the community and that is not a success story to us.”
NDCS Director Scott Frakes assured the public he would not jeopardize their safety. He said they did not plan on releasing any prisoner who did not meet parole requirements. “There’s been speculation that this certification will result in the automatic release of numerous inmates in an effort to reduce the number of people housed,” he said. “This is not correct.”
Frakes said Nebraska could not reduce overall population by selecting from a large pool of low-level, non-violent ...
by David M. Reutter
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld on June 8, 2020, that a pretrial detainee’s First Amendment claim that officials violated his right to free speech by opening incoming and outgoing legal mail outside his presence. It affirmed judgment on claims alleging violation of the Fourth and Sixth Amendments.
Before the court was an appeal brought by Grant Haze. Haze alleged that while awaiting trial from July 2011 to September 2013 at the Wake County Public Safety Center and the Wake County Detention Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, the defendants interfered with his legal mail on at least 15 occasions. His civil rights complaint alleged violations of the First, Fourth, and Sixth Amendments.
The district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. It found that the defendants acted only negligently on the free speech claim, that Haze failed to show injury to support the access to courts claim, and that Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994) barred the Fourth and Sixth Amendment claims.
On appeal, Haze’s principal contention was that the defendants violated his First Amendment right to free speech. The Fourth Circuit recognized that opening a person’s legal mail outside of their ...
by Derek Gilna
In a clear victory for prisoners and their families, a federal judge recently ordered the U.S. Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to make federal stimulus payments previously denied to people in prison and jail.
The same court has also laid out detailed guidelines for the government to follow to ensure that the incarcerated are not misinformed about their right to the stimulus.
It also forced the IRS to extend its paper-filing deadline to receive stimulus requests, since most people behind bars don’t have access to a computer and can’t take advantage of a later deadline previously granted to online filers. Prisoners and detainees originally had until October 15, 2020 to file by mail but that was extended until October 30. The deadline to file online, using the portal at irs.gov, is November 21.
In her original September 24 order, Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton of the 9th Circuit U.S. District Court certified a nationwide class of incarcerated individuals denied federal stimulus checks and granted them a preliminary injunction against the IRS and Treasury, stopping the agencies from blocking such payments and expediting previously denied payments.
Although many federal and state statutes bar current prisoners ...
by Jayson Hawkins
A series of assaults by a group of prisoners on convicted sex offenders was carried out with the consent and assistance of 10 officers at an unnamed California correctional facility. After an investigation, the prison’s warden determined that the actions of six of the guards involved were egregious enough for them to be fired, yet only four were let go before attorneys for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) halted the proceedings.
The attorneys argued that the allegations against the officers were substantiated only by the testimony of prisoners and that evidence of that sort would not hold up before the State Personnel Board.
A parallel investigation by the state Office of the Inspector General (OIG), which is tasked with overseeing the conduct of corrections department employees, concluded on January 10, 2020 that the evidence in this particular case was adequate to pursue the termination of the six guards identified by the warden. Inspector General Roy Wesley, however, expressed concern that it might set a dangerous precedent when it came to firing officers based solely on the word of prisoners.
Dana Simas, a spokesperson for CDCR, disagreed with the assertion that the department was dismissive ...
by Ed Lyon
In 1855, young General Philip H. Sheridan was a second lieutenant at Fort Clark, located in present-day Kinney County, Texas. When someone asked him how he liked the state, he replied “If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent out Texas and live in Hell.”
There are, without a doubt, many tens of thousands of former and current Texas prisoners who would gladly room with the General in his preferred lodgings after spending one summer in a typical Texas prison.
Texas currently operates 102 prisons across a state covering more land than some European countries. It is smack in the geographic center of the traditionally hottest states in the country from California on the West coast to Georgia and the Carolinas in the East. Some of the commonalities these states share is a lack of air conditioning in their prisons, excessive summer heat and, from Texas to points east, those states are known as the Bible Belt.
One would think that a state with such a reference would practice forgiveness, love and compassion. Texas seems to be mired firmly in the Old Testament’s “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth,” strict retributive doctrine where ...
by Alex Sakariassen, Kaiser Health News, September 29, 2020
When Joshua Martz tested positive for COVID-19 this summer in a Montana jail, guards moved him and nine other inmates with the disease into a pod so cramped that some slept on mattresses on the floor.
Martz, 44, said he suffered through symptoms that included achy joints, a sore throat, fever and an unbearable headache. Jail officials largely avoided interacting with the COVID patients other than by handing out over-the-counter painkillers and cough syrup, he said. Inmates sanitized their hands with a spray bottle containing a blue liquid that Martz suspected was also used to mop the floors. A shivering inmate was denied a request for an extra blanket, so Martz gave him his own.
“None of us expected to be treated like we were in a hospital, like we’re a paying customer. That’s just not how it’s going to be,” said Martz, who has since been released on bail while his case is pending in court. “But we also thought we should have been treated with respect.”
The overcrowded Cascade County Detention Center in Great Falls, where Martz was held, is one of three Montana jails experiencing COVID outbreaks. In ...
by David M. Reutter
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court’s order denying a prisoner’s motion for recruitment of counsel.
This was the second appeal brought by Wisconsin prisoner Randy McCaa. His civil rights action alleged that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to his threats to commit suicide or harm himself in other ways. The first appeal came after the district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.
The Seventh Circuit found the district court’s denial of McCaa’s fourth motion for recruitment failed to sufficiently address McCaa’s ability to present his case himself. It remanded for reconsideration of the recruitment of counsel, but it did not require such appointment. [See PLN, December 2018, p.56.]
On remand, the district court again denied McCaa’s motion to recruit counsel. In this second appeal, McCaa asserted the district refused to comply with the Seventh Circuit’s mandate. The Seventh Circuit disagreed.
It noted that on remand the district court “took a fresh look at the issue” and reached the same conclusion in “a detailed and persuasive opinion” that explained why the court believed “this was not an appropriate case for attempting recruitment of counsel.”
Two reasons were given for that ...
by David M. Reutter
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a report that found the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) violates prisoners’ Eighth Amendment rights by frequently using excessive force. The report found overcrowding and understaffing are major contributors to the improper use of force.
The DOJ’s July 23, 2020, report is the second one it has issued that found systematic constitutional violations exist in ADOC prisons. In April 2019, the DOJ issued notice that it had reason to believe that ADOC violates prisoners’ Eighth Amendment rights by “failing to protect them from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, and by failing to provide safe and sanitary conditions.” That report found the “serious deficiencies in staffing and supervision, and overcrowding, contribute to and exacerbate these constitutional violations.” [See PLN, September 2019, p. 44.]
DOJ’s latest investigation was extensive. It interviewed 55 staff members and 270 prisoners during on-site visits at four prisons, conducted over 800 telephone interviews with prisoners and family members, and received and reviewed over 400 letters from prisoners. It also received hundreds of emails from prisoners and family members.
ADOC houses about 16,600 prisoners at 13 prisons. The report “identified frequent uses of excessive force ...
by Mark Wilson
"We said since day one, prisons, especially private prisons shielded from transparency and oversight, are a hot spot for COVID-19 transmission.”
That’s what the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nevada said in a July 2020 statement criticizing the “outrageous and disturbing” infection of 69.7 percent of Nevada prisoners confined within an Arizona prison operated by Tennessee-based CoreCivic, one of the largest private prison firms in the country.
The novel coronavirus that causes the disease ravaged Arizona like a wildfire in the summer of 2020, with one in five Arizonans testing positive. On a single day, July 18, 2020, the state reported 147 new deaths to COVID-19, versus just nine deaths in Nevada the same day. Arizona has no statewide mask mandate like Nevada’s to combat the pandemic.
Thanks, in part, to a comprehensive testing initiative, just 18 (less than 0.15%) of Nevada’s 12,000-plus state prisoners, as well as 54 guards, had tested positive for COVID-19 by July 2020. But a group of 99 prisoners that the Nevada Department of Corrections (NOOC) sent to CoreCivic’s 1,926-bed Saguaro Correctional Center, in Eloy, Arizona, was not so lucky.
As of July 16, 2020, four CoreCivic staff members and 69 ...
by David M. Reutter
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals held on April 27, 2020 that a district court erred when ruling against a Pennsylvania prisoner’s civil rights complaint and allowed the case to proceed
Prisoner Casey Dooley, pro se, filed a civil rights action in state court that the defendants removed to federal court. His complaint alleged an Eighth Amendment violation resulted from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ (PDOC) refusal to assign him the mental health classification associated with the greatest mental health resources.
Dooley argued that because the jury found him guilty but mentally ill (GBMI), he should be designated as a D Stability Code under PDOC’s regulations. Under that regulation, prisoners who have been found GBMI are to be assigned the D Stability Code. During the grievance process, PDOC officials denied relief because the trial court documents allegedly no longer identified him as GMBI. They argued the judge determined after an evaluation that Dooley was not GMBI. Dooley countered that the sentencing court noted he “needs some psychiatric assistance.”
In his complaint, Dooley alleged the failure to designate him as D Stability Code caused him to “suffer” agonizing mental health pain and trauma and serious depression, ...
by Matt Clarke
On January 17, 2020, a Washington judge awarded over $110,000 in penalties and attorney fees to a former state prisoner whom another state judge had already freed, all because Snohomish County officials’ clumsy handling of public records requests had threatened his rights, as well as those of 127 other county inmates seeking records.
Jimi Hamilton had already gained notoriety when he married a former jail guard in nearby Pierce County while awaiting sentencing for bank robbery in 2007. Then, while serving a 14-year term for that crime, Hamilton was charged with a second-degree assault that left another guard with broken bones in his cheek and jaw. A jury convicted him in October 2014, and since this was his “third strike” under state law, Hamilton was facing life in prison.
He got a temporary reprieve when a state appeals court tossed the conviction in 2017 for improper questioning at trial of the only expert witness called on Hamilton’s behalf. While awaiting a retrial in 2018, he made a public records request for video files from the county jail on the day of the alleged assault.
The county instructed him to complete and sign a form that said the ...
by David M. Reutter
A New Jersey prison guard was acquitted on charges of official misconduct and conspiracy to commit sexual assault. It is the second acquittal for guard Brian Y. Ambroise, who worked at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, New Jersey’s only women’s prison.
The March 13, 2020, verdict by a Hunterdon County Superior Court jury resolves all of the criminal charges against Ambroise. He was charged in two other cases alleging he sexually assaulted prisoners. Prosecutors dropped charges in one case against Ambroise, 36, and in November 2018 a jury acquitted Ambroise in the second case.
The latest acquittal came in a case alleging Ambroise allowed two female prisoners into an area of the prison where guard Ronald Coleman allegedly sexually assaulted them. Coleman, 40, was scheduled to go to trial in May 2020 on charges that he sexually assaulted two women prisoners on separate occasions in 2015 and 2016.
Ambroise is the only guard to be acquitted in a sexual abuse scandal at the prison. It was uncovered as the result of a 2017 NJ Advance Media investigation that found a pattern of sexual exploitation and assault at the prison. Guards Thomas Seguine, Ahnwar Dixon, Joel Herscap, and ...
by Ed Lyon
The North Carolina Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice (DACJJ) has been in a severe crisis mode regarding prison guard understaffing. The August 2019 vacancy rate was 21 percent, causing prisons to be unable to safely.
DPS and DACJJ administrators decided to close three of their minimum-security facilities, on a temporary basis, to allow them to operate their remaining prisons at a constitutionally acceptable level. Yet prisoner Scott Whitmeyer was stabbed to death on the evening of September 28, 2019. He was assigned to Whiteville’s Columbus Correctional Institution and was living in a dormitory within the medium-security prison.
Republican state Senator Bob Steinburg questioned the closing of the three prisons. One of them is in Steinburg’s district and another is not far away, which would no doubt cause an economic slowdown for his constituents. Steinburg issued a statement saying that “Secretary Moose and senior staff at the Division of Adult Corrections have agreed to appear before the Senate Select Committee of Prison Safety so that other Senators may ask questions.”
There were multiple delays. However, by August 2020 all three prisons had been reopened. On August 10, State Treasurer Dale Folwell stated ...
by David M. Reutter
Renegotiation of its jail telephone contract netted Pennsylvania’s Lehigh County an unbudgeted $225,000 windfall. Mark Pinsley, the county comptroller, urged county officials to put that “revenue back into efforts to aid those held in the county jail.”
Pinsley’s March 5, 2020, letter noted that research shows “that contact with families during incarceration is closely associated with a more successful reentry and a reduction in reoffending.” He noted that prisoners face “enormous social and economic challenges resulting from their time behind bars.”
Pinsley recommended “the county use these funds to either reduce the cost of calls or provide additional assistance.” The county also could “invest in preventive measures that reduce the likelihood of incarceration and violence in our communities. The scourge of violence, particularly which afflicts our inner-city communities has had a devastating impact on families and neighborhoods,” he wrote.
County Executive Phillips Armstrong and Director of General Services Rick Molchany said revenue the jail generates goes back into its operations. They also noted, without providing details, that they had bolstered efforts to reduce recidivism. Under the new contract, jail detainees still pay the same amount for calls. The cost ranges from 21 cents to 25 cents ...
by Matt Clarke
On April 15, 2020, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s granting of summary judgment to prison officials in a Connecticut prisoner’s lawsuit over their failure to protect him from retaliation by gang members after he assisted in an investigation.
Lloyd George Morgan, Jr., was transferred to the Osborn Correctional Institution after he cooperated with prison officials investigating gang activity at another prison. Upon his arrival at Osborn, he was immediately threatened and harassed for being a snitch and a homosexual.
Morgan sent an Inmate Request Form (IRF) to Unit Manager Captain K. Godding stating that he had worked with prison intelligence officials and had been called a snitch by Los Solidos gang member Gabriel Rodriguez, who had threatened to “beat [Morgan] really bad and snap [his] neck for being a ‘snitch’” and feared Rodriguez would harm him. He reiterated this to Godding verbally on at least three occasions, but Godding would not take him seriously and told him to “stop being a snitch” and “learn to fight like a man.”
Morgan then sent a similar IRF to Osborn Warden Carol Chapdelaine. He also spoke with Chapdelaine about the IRF when she toured his ...
by Derek Gilna
The volatile 2020 presidential election campaign led private prison operators, dominated by CoreCivic and GEO Group, to open their wallets, with a vast percentage of their approximately $2 million in combined contributions going to the Republicans, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.
With a sitting president who has campaigned against illegal immigration and in favor of strict enforcement of immigration laws, the industry clearly wants to maintain its profit stream from facilities holding immigration detainees.
However, whether or not President Donald Trump is reelected, or his Democratic challenger Joe Biden prevails [Editor’s note: This story is being written shortly before the election], the private prison concerns will not likely be going out of business any time soon, for a reason that transcends party politics: There is insufficient space in federal prisons or immigration-holding facilities to house all detainees. There also is no support in Congress for increasing bed space.
In a little-reported development, the Department of Justice quietly transferred the last immigration detainees from its prisons in 2018.
As a result, DOJ and immigration officials were left with no other option but to use private facilities to house them. Both major companies made ...
by David M. Reutter
On May 20, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, issued a precedent-setting ruling that clarified when a “misrepresentation” to a prisoner renders a grievance process “unavailable” as a matter of law under the federal Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA).
When the plaintiff in the case, Steven Patrick Hardy, entered the State Correctional Institute at Camp Hill in July 2017, he was in urgent need of medical care. Part of a leg amputated due to diabetes had developed an infected open wound as a result of an ill-fitting prosthesis. Because of his condition, he was sent directly to the prison infirmary rather than to a cellblock.
As a result, he did not receive the normal orientation given new prisoners, nor was he issued a copy of the Camp Hill Inmate Handbook. Nevertheless, staff assured him that a handbook copy would be waiting for him in his cellblock, so Hardy agreed to sign an acknowledgment he had received it. But, in fact, the handbook was not awaiting him when he finally arrived on the cellblock.
Hardy requested a copy from a guard, who said he “should have already gotten one” ...
by David M. Reutter
Florida’s legal battle to defend a 2019 law that requires felons to pay all “legal financial obligations” (LFOs) to be eligible to vote has cost taxpayers over $1.7 million, according to state records as of August 2020. [See PLN, July 2020, p.54.]
In November 2018, Florida voters overwhelming approved Amendment 4, which restored voting rights to felons, except those convicted of murder and sex offenses, “after they complete all terms of their sentences including parole and probation.”
Florida’s Republican Legislature responded to that public mandate by passing SB 7066. That law required felons to pay all court ordered fines, fees, costs and restitution associated with their convictions to be eligible to vote.
Legislators “knew going into the  legislative session that they were going to be sued for it,” said Leah Aden of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Gov. Ron DeSantis authorized $2.34 million in contracts with private law firms to represent the State in defending against that litigation, which resulted in a September 11, 2020, en banc decision from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals that reversed the district court’s judgment that found SB 7066 was an unconstitutional poll tax. 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS ...
by Matt Clarke
On June 30, 2020, Flacks Group, a Miami-based global investment firm, announced that it had purchased Brentwood, Tennessee-based Corizon Health, one of the nation’s largest private providers·of health care services in prisons and jails. The purchase price was not disclosed.
Flacks Group specializes in “operational-turn-around of under-utilized companies.”
In other words, it purchases companies that have good prospects, but are performing poorly and improves their performance. It has over 7,500 employees and manages in excess of $2.5 billion in assets. It had recently announced that it was looking for bargain-price purchases of companies that had been stressed by the pandemic.
Corizon employees number more than 5,000 and the company’s annual revenue is around $800 million. A Corizon spokesperson said the transaction was not related to the pandemic but caused by Corizon’s maturing debt. Corizon’s debt had reached $300 million before Blue Mountain Capital Management became its majority owner in 2017. In November 2018, Blue Mountain injected another $100 million into the company, reducing its debt load to less than $90 million.
Unmentioned in the press releases were Corizon’s numerous litigation issues and the collapse of its business. In 2018, Corizon contracted with 534 facilities in 27 states ...
by Douglas Ankney
On December 10, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee approved a class action settlement in which Madison County agreed to pay $1.25 million over claims alleging that Sheriff John Mehr violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).
Natasha Grayson, an employee of the Madison County Criminal Justice Complex (“MCCJC”), was the named plaintiff in the lawsuit, which was filed on July 2, 2019.
The suit named Madison County as the Defendant and sought to recover unpaid wages, overtime wages, liquefied damages, attorney’s fees, and statutory penalties under the FLSA on behalf of Grayson and other similarly situated current and former employees (Plaintiffs) of the Defendant. The suit alleged that Plaintiffs were hourly employees who worked eight-hour shifts, five days per week. But Defendant’s policies required Plaintiffs to arrive at the MCCJC and be ready for work 15 minutes before their shift began and to remain another 15 minutes after their shift ended. The Plaintiffs were not compensated for this time, and Defendant failed to log this time.
Since this period of 30 minutes each day was in excess of their 40 hour each week, Plaintiffs alleged the FLSA required they be compensated ...
by Ed Lyon
For decades, New York City’s Rikes Island Jail Complex (RIJC) has been the largest urban lock-up in the United States. It has also been infamous as among the most violent jails regarding assaultive behavior by guards toward prisoners, even extending at times to citizens who visit prisoners. [PLN, February 2019, p. 34]
Despite the jail’s population being lower than any time since 1945, constant monitoring by federal authorities and agreements by city government to regulate the jail’s violent culture, uses of force have risen since 2016 — from 390 incidents per month to 600, a whopping 54 percent increase. The numbers were reported on August 6, 2020 by a federal appointee who monitors the jail system
Prior to 2015, New York City’s Legal Aid office, assisted by several private law firms, had prosecuted a class action civil rights lawsuit challenging confinement conditions at RIJC. When the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) joined the suit as plaintiff-intervenor, the city quickly entered into a settlement largely favoring the plaintiff class. (See: Nunez v. City of New York, Case No. 1:11-cv05845-LTS-JCF, U.S.D.C. (S.D. NY).
The original Nunez agreement allowed for thousands ...
by David M. Reutter
Chicago’s Cook County Jail expanded its electronic monitoring program (EM) and moved detainees to home confinement in response to COVID-19. As officials ran out of ankle monitors, at least 10 detainees who were ordered released on EM were held in jail when it was one of the country’s hot spots for the disease.
Civil rights groups had filed a federal lawsuit on April 9, 2020 that sought the release of medically vulnerable people from the jail during the pandemic. A federal judge ordered Sheriff Thomas Dart to increase testing and keep detainees apart from one another. Dart appealed, and his motion to stay was denied. [See: Mays v. Dart, Case No. 20 C 2134, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.)]
Reduction of the jail population came through electronic monitoring releases. The jail population dropped from 5,604 on March 1 to 4,281 on May 29. That increased the EM population from 2,417 on March 1 to 3,205. It was a move Dart criticized due to a lack of resources.
The surge in the need for devices caught sheriff officials off-guard. There were 10 detainees who could not be released on May 7 due to a shortage in ankle monitors, ...
by David M. Reutter
The University of Michigan (UM) is building a graduate campus on the grounds of the former site for a new Wayne County Jail (WCJ). The 190,000 square-foot research and graduate education building for UM students will focus on automotive mobility, artificial intelligence, sustainability, cybersecurity and financial education.
As PLN reported, construction was halted in 2013 on the WCJ after it was discovered the project was running tens of millions of dollars over its $300 million budget. [See: PLN, April 2016, p.58.]
At least $150 million in 2010 bond funds were spent on the half-built jail. Since construction was halted, taxpayers paid nearly $1.2 million per month in costs for debt financing, security, and other fees related to the site.
In early 2018, the site was sold to Dan Gilbert, who owns the Rock Ventures development company, for $21.8 million. His company demolished the half-built jail with plans to build a soccer stadium if Major League Soccer awarded Detroit an expansion team. Instead, teams were awarded to Cincinnati and Nashville.
UM announced in October 2019 plans to partner with Gilbert and billionaire real estate mogul and UM alum Stephen Ross to build the $300 million Detroit Center ...
by Kevin Bliss
California’s Office of Inspector General released a 47-page report in August 2020, which stated that vague testing guidelines, faulty thermometers and inadequate training contributed to the COVID-19 outbreak in the state’s prisons, killing 54 prisoners and nine guards while infecting 9,500 others.
“Nine is an extraordinary number of staff deaths,” stated attorney Michael Bien. “I cannot recall anything like that in any year. Right now it is very dangerous for those in custody and those working there.”
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (Department) instituted mandatory screening for visitors and employees at all of its 35 prisons last March. One month later, the Office of the Inspector General examined the prisons and found that the directive that all the staff and visitors would be screened for COVID-19 was being inconsistently applied.
Some of the prisons screened incoming personnel in the parking lot before the person could even get out of their car. Others did not screen until the person was somewhere on prison grounds. “We found that this second approach increased the risk that staff or visitors may have walked into or through other work spaces without having been screened,” said the report. “By that point, ...
by David M. Reutter
On June 18, 2020, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the grant of summary judgment to prison officials in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action alleging the officials’ failure to clear snow and ice from outdoor exercise yards for an entire winter violated the prisoner’s Eight Amendment right to physical exercise.
Before the court was the appeal of New York prisoner Lionel McCray. Proceeding pro se, McCray alleged that while at Green Haven Correctional Facility (GHCF) in 2013-2014, he was on “keeplock” status, which allowed him out of his cell for one hour of daily exercise. GHCF had several outdoor exercise yards and one indoor gymnasium that was restricted to prisoners in other categories.
McCray alleged that in the winter of 2014, one or more of GHCF’s outdoor recreation yards was closed, which when combined with the prison’s maximum capacity population and the waist-high snow and ice accumulations that blocked access to exercise equipment, “prevented McCray from moving sufficiently freely to be able to exercise” for four months. McCray also alleged he was injured during a slip and fall on the ice.
After the district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, McCray ...
by Derek Gilna
A wrongful death action filed by the decedent’s estate of a Rikers Island prisoner against the City of New York, the New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., Prison Health Services, and individual prison guard defendants, has settled for $5.5 million.
Eva Luckey, a prisoner at Rikers Island, New York, jailed for petit larceny, died in April 2002, because of negligence on the part of jail staff to provide her with the prescription medication needed to control her asthma, and failed to perform CPR on her when she went into respiratory distress.
The December 2019 settlement ended a multiyear legal odyssey, which initially saw the medical providers found guilty of negligence for failure to prescribe needed medication, but also the dismissal of Section 1983 civil rights and negligence claims against other defendants. Luckey’s attorney, Richard Gross of the New York law firm of Rubert & Gross, P.C., appealed, and the court reinstated the dismissed counts, setting the stage for the settlement.
As noted by Prison Legal News in April 2015, the appellate court’s decision found that New York could be held liable for failure “to protect decedent from reasonably foreseeable harm in providing emergency medical assistance once ...
by Matt Clarke
On February 24, 2020, the families of four Alabama state prisoners who committed suicide as they languished in isolation cells in the Alabama Department of Corrections (DOC) filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against DOC officials, Wexford Health Sources and MHM Correctional Services, the DOC’s contract providers of medical and mental health services. They alleged that a lack of mental health treatment and use of untrained and unsupervised mental health workers in the DOC led to their family members’ deaths.
Billy Lee Thornton, Ryan Rust, Matthew Holmes, and Paul Ford were DOC prisoners suffering from severe mental illness who were incarcerated in segregation cells prior to their suicides. During their incarceration, mental-health care for DOC prisoners was provided by MHM and Wexford (after mid-2018).
Prior to the four suicides, an Alabama federal court issued a remedial order and opinion in a civil rights lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center over conditions in the DOC, calling the provision of mental health services “simply put ... horrendously inadequate” and in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Briggs v. Dunn, 257 F.Supp.3d 1171 (M.D. Ala. June 27, 2017).
With the assistance of Montgomery attorney Joseph Mitchell McGuire of ...
by Daniel A. Rosen
Migrants in ICE custody in New Mexico were attacked with pepper spray on May 14, 2020, to end a days-long hunger strike. The detainees, housed at Torrance County Detention Facility, privately run by CoreCivic, were protesting the food quality and lack of protection from COVID-19.
“Suddenly they just started gassing us. You could just hear everyone screaming for help,” Yandy Bacallao, a 34-year-old Cuban asylum claimant, told Searchlight New Mexico.
A CoreCivic spokesman confirmed that the incident took place. Ryan Gustin said on the company’s behalf that officers pepper-sprayed “a group of detainees who became disruptive by refusing to comply with verbal directives provided by staff.” Gustin referred further questions to ICE, which had no response to requests for comment.
Torrance County Manager Wayne Johnson was skeptical of inmate accounts, saying he had no confirmation that the incident had even happened, but suspects “there’s more to it than what you’ve been told.”
The county recorded $90,000 in income from CoreCivic last fiscal year, when the site started housing migrants, and expects annual revenue from the arrangement to climb to about $130,000 per year.
Bacallao and two other detainees provided additional details. After almost three dozen ...
by Chad Marks
Jeffrey Bardo was a state of Connecticut prisoner at the Willard Cybulski Correctional Institution in Enfield when he submitted a medical request to have an odd spot on his face checked out.
Two days after Bardo submitted that request, on December 18, 2012, Dr. Michael Clements examined Bardo, diagnosing the spot as a “two-centimeter sebaceous cyst.”
On June 18, 2013, while at the Osborn Correctional Institution, Bardo complained again about a medical issue — a bump under the skin of his abdomen and an old scar on his face that would not go away, according to court records.
Two months later, Bardo was transferred to the Carl Robinson Correctional Institution, where he met with Dr. Carson Wright after complaining about the spot on his face and the lump on his stomach. Bardo suggested to the physician that he might have skin cancer, which Wright said was not the case. Bardo was eventually told that the spot was likely ringworm and prescribed an antifungal cream.
Upon his release from the Department of Corrections, Bardo went to meet with a primary care physician in 2015. After a biopsy, it was determined that the facial lesion was a basal cell ...
by David M. Reutter
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Florida Department of Corrections’ (FDC) treatment satisfies constitutional requirements even though it does not require that Hepatitis C (HCV)-positive prisoners be treated with expensive antiviral drugs during early stages of the disease.
The court’s August 31, 2020, opinion was issued in an appeal brought by FDC. The appeal challenged a district court’s order requiring FDC to treat all HCV-positive prisoners with direct acting antiviral (DAA) drugs within two years of their diagnosis.
HCV attacks the liver, causing scarring or fibrosis that is scored from F0 to F4. The district court, after a five-day hearing in October 2017, granted a preliminary injunction that required FDC to treat prisoners with F2 (moderate fibrosis), F3 (severe fibrosis), and F4 (cirrhosis) with DAAs. (See PLN, December 2017, p.24.)
The district court subsequently granted the prisoner class motion for summary judgment that included, but expanded upon, its preliminary injunction. The permanent injunction required FDC to treat prisoners with F0 (no fibrosis) and F1 (mild fibrosis) with DAAs within two years.
On appeal, FDC conceded that chronic HCV is a serious medical need. The Eleventh Circuit began its analysis by pointing to ...
by David M. Reutter
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the grant of summary judgment to Ohio prison officials in a civil rights action alleging a prisoner’s rights were violated because he was denied a religious diet and fasting. The grant of judgment on his claims related to the wearing of dreadlocks and communing with others was affirmed.
The court’s July 7, 2020, opinion was issued in an appeal brought by prisoner Cecil Koger, who is a practicing Rastafarian. Between 2006 and 2018, Koger submitted numerous requests, appeals, and letters to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) asking for religious accommodations and exemptions. All were denied. He filed suit on November 16, 2017, alleging violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the First Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants.
Koger was subjected to four forced cuttings of his dreadlocks. but that was not at issue. Instead, the issue was the validity of ODRC’s grooming policy, which went into effect on October 22, 2018. That policy was in response to a declaration in Glenn v. Ohio Dep’t of Rehab. & Corr., 2018 WL 2197884 (N.D. Ohio 2018), which ...
by Ed Lyon
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has been challenged regarding care for its mentally ill prisoners for decades. Rather than improve under a class action lawsuit dating back to 1990 (now Plata v. Newsom) and seeking constitutionally acceptable mental health care for prisoners, conditions continue to slide, exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
Mental health problems are especially egregious at CDCR’s California Institute for Women (CIW) in Chino. This is a 1,398-bed prison, currently operating at a slight overcapacity with 1,500 prisoners. Although females currently make up only 4 percent of CDCR’s population, they represent a disproportionate 11 percent of the suicide rate.
Prior to COVID-19, a group of CIW prisoners receiving mental health treatment had dayroom access 23 hours a day. By mid-March, the women found themselves confined to their cells for 23 hours a day, sometimes longer. They stated that prison staff told them nothing about lockdown procedures, when they would be allowed recreation and phone calls to family members or even when they would be allowed to shower.
On April 6, 2020 three major events occurred at CIW. Staff there began wearing masks, the prison received its first positive result on ...
by David M. Reutter
On June 17, 2020, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the sealing of a North Carolina federal district court’s order. That order denied a Defendant’s motion for resentencing because that order referred to “Defendant’s substantial assistance,” and there exists a compelling interest under the First Amendment “to protect Defendant from harm.”
“John Doe” moved a North Carolina federal district court in 2016 “for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) and Guidelines Amendment 782, which lowered base offense levels for federal drug crimes.” Doe pleaded guilty in 2012 to conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute 28 grams or more of cocaine base and 500 grams or more of cocaine.
At sentencing, the government moved for a downward departure under U.S. Sentencing Guidelines § 5K1.1 in light of Doe’s substantial assistance to state authorities before he was federally indicted. As a result, the district court sentenced Doe to 252 months’ imprisonment, which was well below his 292 to 365 Guideline range.
In denying the motion for resentencing in July 2018, the district court referred to the government’s § 5K1.1 motion. Concerned about that reference, Doe in November 2018 moved to seal the ...
by Ed Lyon
The dubious history of agreement, contract and treaty breaking by the United States and its state governments was briefly addressed in the February 2019 issue of Criminal Legal News [p. 33].
The federal government has been in continuous violation of one of its treaties with Native Americans that it agreed to in 1868 called the Treaty of Fort Laramie for years. In essence, the U.S. government agreed that unused federal lands would be open for ownership claims by certain Native American tribes.
The Pacific island off the nation’s West coast across from San Francisco, California, where the Alcatraz prison was built originally belonged to the Ohlone tribe. In 1850, the federal government seized it for use as a military base. It eventually became a military prison before its 1934 transformation as the forerunner of today’s supermax prisons. It housed such notorious prisoners as Al Capone, along with 19 Hopi tribesmen charged for the “crime” of refusing to assimilate into Anglo culture.
Alcatraz, known as “The Rock,” was permanently shuttered in 1963. The federal government declared the defunct federal penitentiary “surplus property,” a legal precursor under the Fort Laramie Treaty to returning it to its rightful owners, the ...
by Jayson Hawkins
An internal investigation conducted by the inspector general’s office of the Department of the Interior found a surprising lack of procedures or policies governing the use of federal prisoners by the National Park Service (NPS).
According to the report: At one unnamed national park—the prisoners, whose criminal histories included firearms and drug related convictions—were found with contraband after they had been left working unsupervised in a park campground for about two hours. NPS employees were overseeing the work detail program without any formal training or guidance, which led to inmates gaining access to contraband such as tools and knives.
The investigation also uncovered that the rules relating to prisoner work details varied from one park to the next and required no approval beyond the local level. No structure for oversight has been in place from the Interior Department.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt responded to the report by putting a temporary hold on allowing prisoners to work in national parks effective April 2, 2020.
“I hereby order and direct NPS to immediately cease the use of prison labor,” stated Bernhardt. “Any agreements in place regarding the same are hereby rendered null and void.”
Bernhardt noted that NPS officials ...
by David M. Reutter
Corizon Health, Inc. agreed to pay $70,000 to settle a civil rights action alleging it failed to properly treat an Arizona prisoner’s wrist injury.
Eric Kevin Pesqueira incurred a wrist injury on October 17, 2013. He alleged it “was not promptly treated with medical devices or surgery.” When he had an outside evaluation, “he was told that his wrist was deformed with a limited range of motion that is likely permanent.” He was diagnosed in June 2014 with “SLAC wrist.”
In May 2016, Pesqueira reinjured his wrist by falling from his bunk “due to the failure to properly treat his wrist.” Then, in September 2017 he fell while doing jumping exercises and reinjured his wrist. Pesqueira was seen by a Corizon doctor in August 2018, and it was found “the fracture healed with some displacement of the third finger and wrist, and arthritis of the wrist.” Pesquiera underwent two surgeries to repair his right third finger in September 2018.
Represented by attorneys from the Law Office of Stacy Scheff, a settlement demand of $220,000 was made on February 17, 2020. The parties agreed on March 23, 2020, to a settlement of $70,000. See: Pesqueira v. Corizon ...
by David M. Reutter
On June 26, 2020, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a case in which “a prisoner states an Eighth Amendment claim by alleging that, without provocation, a prison official threatened the prisoner’s life on multiple occasions and took concrete steps, such as aggressively brandishing a deadly weapon, to make those threats credible.”
Michigan prisoner Fletcher Darnell Small alleged in his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint that on several occasions “Officer Brock brandished a knife, threatened to kill Small, and motioned in a manner suggesting how Brock would use the knife to kill Small.” Those actions allegedly caused Small to seek “treatment and counseling” for “paranoia, mental distress, [and] psychological distress.”
The district court dismissed the action for failure to state a claim. After it denied Small’s motion to alter or amend the judgment, Small, acting pro se, appealed.
The Sixth Circuit noted it had never addressed the circumstances as Small presented. “[A] prisoner has ‘the right to be free from the terror of instant and unexpected death at the whim’ of his jailors,” wrote the court. “A threat of loss, when made credible by the aggressive brandishing of a deadly weapon, is beyond ...
by David M. Reutter
"The Federal Reporter is replete with examples of prisoners losing cases because they missed litigation deadlines and courts extended little forgiveness,” the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals wrote on June 25, 2020, in vacating a federal district court’s grant of summary judgment of prison officials. Error was found in the granting of defendants’ motion to file a belated second motion arguing a prisoner failed to exhaust administrative remedies.
Western Illinois Correctional Center prisoner Carlos Bowman’s civil rights action arose from events that occurred on April 14, 2014, during a “tactical shakedown” at the prison. Bowman alleged guards beat and choked him and forced him and other prisoners to stand so close together that their hands were on or near each other’s genitals for hours.
Bowman timely pursued the two-stage prison grievance system. After those remedies were denied, he brought Eighth Amendment claims for excessive force and failing to intervene against multiple guards and supervisors. He proceed in the district court and on appeal pro se after making several requests for the appointment of counsel.
Early in the proceedings, the defendants flagged the exhaustion issue. In March 2016, the district court entered a scheduling order that required ...
by Derek Gilna
The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), parent company of Prison Legal News, (PLN) and Criminal Legal News (CLN), on September 1, 2020, filed a federal civil rights case alleging violations of its federal civil rights statutes.
HRDC alleged in its complaint that Adams County, Colorado; its sheriff, Richard Reigenborn and the jail chief, Chris Laws, “since June 2019 ... have refused to deliver dozens of HRDC’s mailings to incarcerated persons, directly violating HRDC’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech (and its) Fourteenth Amendment rights to notice and an opportunity to challenge censorship.”
“Although the Jail has an official mail policy in place, its correctional officers arbitrarily enforce that policy,” it further alleged. “HRDC respectfully requests that the Court order the Jail and its employees to cease and desist from continuing their ongoing violation, under color of State law, of HRDC’s rights (and those of its would-be readers) …and to award HRDC damages for the injuries it has sustained as a result of Defendants’ unlawful conduct.”
PLN noted in its complaint that HRDC “has thousands of subscribers to its monthly magazines in the United States and abroad, including incarcerated persons, attorneys, judges, ...
by Kevin Bliss
A captain with the St. Louis County Justice Services Center in Clayton, Missouri was under investigation for allegedly abusing prisoners with histories of mental health problems. The captain had been accused of assaulting a prisoner with a mental health issue on June 1, 2020 and then confining him to a restraint chair for 18 hours; as well as tasing a Black female prisoner while she was restrained in the infirmary on June 10.
The captain (whose name has been withheld since he has not been charged with a crime) has since been demoted to a lieutenant, but the Clayton Police Department and the Department of Corrections Internal Affairs have both concluded their investigation, finding no evidence of wrongdoing.
Clayton Police Corporal Jenny Schwartz said the only report in evidence about the ex-captain was filed on June 2, which said that a prisoner assaulted the ex-captain by spitting on him. She said the investigation concluded with an application for a warrant for the prisoner’s arrest being sent to prosecuting attorney Wesley Bell’s office.
St. Louis County NAACP Chapter President John Bowman said the ex-captain should be held accountable and is critical of the county for not doing enough. ...
by Kevin Bliss
Jamel Floyd, a 35-year-old Black male held at the federal Bureau of Prison’s (BOP) Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, died after being pepper sprayed by guards June 3, 2020.
Floyd was serving a 12- to 15-year sentence for a Long Island home invasion committed in 2007. He was being held at the state-run Sing Sing Correctional Facility when he was transferred to MDC in relation to an ongoing case. Associated Press reporters Michael Sisak and Michael Balsamo said that court records showed that Floyd was not a defendant in any pending federal cases when transferred.
MDC was on lockdown due to protests over the death of George Floyd May 25 and internal aggravation concerning new coronavirus protective measures such as requiring all detainees and prisoners to wear personal protective masks all day. Floyd became aggressive and barricaded himself inside his cell, breaking out the cell door’s window with a piece of metal. In a statement released by the BOP, they said, “He [Floyd] became increasingly disruptive and potentially harmful to himself and others. Pepper spray was deployed and Floyd was removed from his cell.”
Medical staff later found Floyd unresponsive in his cell. They attempted to ...
by Ed Lyon
To be penitent is generally defined to be sorry for the wrongs, sins, misdeeds or offenses a person has committed. The word penitent is actually the root of the word penitentiary, which is another word for prison — places of confinement where prisoners are involuntarily housed after being found guilty of wrongs, sins, misdeeds or offenses deemed to be criminal acts by the government.
The thought progression is that prisoners become penitent as a result of spending time in a penitentiary after being found guilty of committing crimes.
In early-1800s Pennsylvania, the Society of Friends or Quakers, strongly disagreed with then-existing prisons and penology concepts and practices. They envisioned a place of solitude where convicts would spend all day, every day, by themselves with nothing but a Holy Bible to read. In such circumstances of penitent meditation, the convicts would see the error of their ways and become redeemed, positively contributing members of society when released.
Construction on Eastern State Penitentiary began in 1821 and was completed in 1829. The cells were huge in comparison to most of today’s 6-by-9 footers, measuring a full 7 and a half by 12 feet. Since the only time a convict ...
by David M. Reutter
The death penalty is advocated both for punishing the most atrocious cases of murder and for its alleged deterrent effect. Yet on March 5, 2020, Alabama executed a 44-year-old man, not for committing murder but instead because he did not “try to stop the gunman from” killing three Birmingham police officers.
“Nathaniel Woods is 100% innocent,” said his co-defendant, Kerry Spencer. “I know this to be fact because I’m the person that shot and killed all three of the officers.”
The story behind Woods’ execution involves corrupt police officers, police intimidation of witnesses, the ineffective assistance of trial counsel, and an Alabama law that allows a defendant to qualify for the death sentence as a result of his co-defendant’s murderous actions.
Early in this century, Woods and Spencer were in cahoots with Tyran “Bubba” Cooper. The three shared a Birmingham apartment from which they sold drugs. A “doorman” at the drug house testified at the 2005 trial that Woods and Spencer sold mostly crack cocaine, serving 100 to 150 people a day.
According to a 2012 affidavit from Cooper, back in 2002 he was paying $300 to $400 a week to police officers Carlos Owen and ...
by Matt Clarke
Former Louisiana State Penitentiary Warden Burl Cain’s 21-year tenure running the prison complex at Angola was both long and controversial. His critics accused him of religious bias, blatant racial prejudice and excessive use of solitary confinement. He is known for forcing his brand of Baptist faith on prisoners, while preventing those of other faiths from practicing their religion. His supporters counter that he took the most violent and infamous prison in America and changed its culture for the better. Many states, including Texas, were so pleased with his methods that they enacted a modified version of the Angola model in their own state prisons.
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves is another supporter and in May 2020 he announced the appointment of Cain, 77, to the top position in the Mississippi Department of Corrections, an overcrowded and underfunded prison system that has seen dozens of prisoners die violently or due to inadequate health care over the past year, as PLN has previously reported. [PLN, June 2020, p. 1.]
“We need a strong, experienced leader that Mississippians can trust, and I believe that person is Burl,” said Reeves. “I do not make this decision lightly. The safety and ...
Loaded on Nov. 1, 2020
published in Prison Legal News
November, 2020, page 62
Alabama: The Birmingham News reported that an Alabama prison guard had been arrested for drug trafficking after a search of his vehicle when he arrived for work at the St. Clair County prison turned up 138 grams of methamphetamine and 16 grams of heroin. Ivan Caldwell, 26, was then booked into the county jail. He resigned in October 2019 from the state Department of Corrections (DOC), for which he had worked since 2017. DOC is “deeply committed to eliminating contraband” in its facilities, said the director of its Investigations and Intelligence Division, Arnaldo Mercado.
Arizona: A guard at Arizona’s Eyman state prison complex in Florence was arrested in October 2019 and charged with aggravated assault on a prisoner. Sgt. Jose Verdugo, 38, allegedly beat up theprisoner, whose name was not released, in August 2019, according to a report in the Arizona Republic. After he was booked into the Pinal County Jail, Verdugo resigned his position with the state Department of Corrections, which issued a statement insisting it “does not tolerate the unjustified use of force against an inmate.”
California: In an unusual turn of events, a prisoner serving a life term at California State Prison and Substance Abuse Treatment Facility ...
by Ed Lyon
At least two Massachusetts sheriffs offer rehabilitative programs to prisoners in their jails. Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi’s jail holds anger management, domestic violence classes and employment seminars while providing bus service to and from the jail for visitors. Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis’ jail holds mental health, education, substance abuse and music programs.
These programs are funded through telephone revenue “commissions” paid to Cocchi by ICSolutions and to Evangelidis by Securus.
Phone rates in Cocchi’s jail are 12¢ per minute with “commissions” totaling about $820,000 annually. Phone rates in Evangelidis’ jail are $3 for the first minute and 15¢ per each subsequent minute, with “commissions” totaling about $300,000 annually.
Both sheriffs say they allow for free phone calls because of the pandemic. They are having to run three and four classes per program each week in order to meet distancing requirements, adding costs to keep them ongoing. They state phone “commissions” pay the costs for these programs.
They claim to be severely underfunded by lawmakers and cannot continue rehabilitative programming without phone provider “commissions.” Nonetheless, the state legislature in October 2020 was considering Senate Bill 2846 (previously Senate Bill 1372) that would require prisons and jails ...