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Prison Legal News: November, 2020

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Volume 31, Number 11

In this issue:

  1. Milestone: Thirty Years of Prison Legal News and the Human Rights Defense Center (p 1)
  2. Fifth Circuit Reinstates Lawsuit Over Texas Jail Prisoner’s Death (p 14)
  3. From the Editor (p 14)
  4. Denied Medical Care During Pandemic, New Jersey Prisoner Treats Infected Wound With Bleach (p 16)
  5. Ninth Circuit: No Summary Judgment for Prison Officials Who Allegedly Allowed Attack on Nevada Prisoner (p 17)
  6. Lives at Stake as Pennsylvania County De-privatizes Prison (p 18)
  7. Coronavirus: A Second Wave of Infection (p 20)
  8. Eleventh Circuit Vacates COVID-19 Injunction Against Miami Jail (p 22)
  9. Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio Loses Another Arizona Republican Primary (p 22)
  10. Nebraska Declares Overcrowding Emergency in State Prisons (p 23)
  11. Fourth Circuit: Opening of Detainee’s Legal Mail Outside His Presence Violates Right to Free Speech (p 24)
  12. Federal Judge Rules Prisoners Eligible for $1,200 Stimulus Checks; Application Deadline Extended to Nov. 21 for Online Filing (p 24)
  13. Texas: Prison Air Conditioning Needs Revisiting (p 26)
  14. California Prison Guards Keep Jobs After Aiding Attacks on Sex Offenders (p 26)
  15. Efforts to Keep COVID-19 Out of Montana Prisons Fuels Outbreaks in County Jails (p 28)
  16. Denial of Recruitment of Counsel for Wisconsin Prisoner Affirmed by Seventh Circuit (p 30)
  17. DOJ Finds Frequent Use of Excessive Force in Alabama Prisons (p 30)
  18. Third Circuit: District Court Erred in Ruling Against Pennsylvania Prisoner’s Civil Rights Complaint (p 32)
  19. Two-Thirds of Nevada Prisoners Confined in Arizona Private Prison Test Positive for COVID-19 (p 32)
  20. Washington Prisoner’s State Public Records Act Lawsuit Results in His Freedom and $111,194 Award (p 34)
  21. New Jersey Guard Acquitted in Sex Scandal (p 34)
  22. North Carolina Temporarily Closes Three Prisons for Lack of Guards; Final One Reopens During COVID-19 Pandemic (p 35)
  23. Second Circuit Reverses Summary Dismissal of Connecticut Prisoner’s Failure-to-Protect Lawsuit (p 36)
  24. $225,000 Windfall in Lehigh County, Pa. But Officials Don’t Cut Jail Phone Costs (p 36)
  25. Pennsylvania Prisoner Loses Part of Leg, Wins Appeal in Precedential Grievance Process Case (p 38)
  26. Private Prison Industry Ramped Up Campaign Contributions, Favoring Republicans (p 38)
  27. Investment Firm Buys Corizon (p 40)
  28. Florida Spent $1.7 Million, and Counting, to Impede Felon Voting Rights (p 40)
  29. $1.25 Million Settlement Against Tennessee County Over Sheriff’s Violations of Labor Law (p 41)
  30. Ankle Monitor Shortage at Chicago Jail Put Prisoner Releases During COVID in Limbo (p 42)
  31. Violence at New York City’s Rikers Island Jail Increasing Even as Population Falls (p 42)
  32. Failed Michigan Jail Site to Host Innovation Center (p 43)
  33. Second Circuit: Denial of Exercise Over Four Months Defeats Summary Judgment (p 44)
  34. Report: Screening Failures Cited in COVID-19 Outbreak in California Prisons (p 44)
  35. Rikers Island Death Case Against City of New York Settles for $5.5 Million (p 45)
  36. Families of 4 Alabama Prisoners Who Committed Suicide File Federal Lawsuit Against Prison Officials (p 46)
  37. ICE Detainees Pepper-Sprayed Over Hunger Strike (p 46)
  38. Connecticut: Summary Judgment Denied in Deliberate Indifference Case Where Facial Lesion Turned Out To Be Skin Cancer (p 48)

Milestone: Thirty Years of Prison Legal News and the Human Rights Defense Center

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 ...

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 ...

From the Editor

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 ...

Denied Medical Care During Pandemic, New Jersey Prisoner Treats Infected Wound With Bleach

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 ...

Ninth Circuit: No Summary Judgment for Prison Officials Who Allegedly Allowed Attack on Nevada 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 ...

Lives at Stake as Pennsylvania County De-privatizes 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 ...

Coronavirus: A Second Wave of Infection

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, ...

Eleventh Circuit Vacates COVID-19 Injunction Against Miami Jail

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 ...

Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio Loses Another Arizona Republican Primary

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 ...

Nebraska Declares Overcrowding Emergency in State Prisons

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 ...

Fourth Circuit: Opening of Detainee’s Legal Mail Outside His Presence Violates Right to Free Speech

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 ...

Federal Judge Rules Prisoners Eligible for $1,200 Stimulus Checks; Application Deadline Extended to Nov. 21 for Online Filing

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 ...

Texas: Prison Air Conditioning Needs Revisiting

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 ...

California Prison Guards Keep Jobs After Aiding Attacks on Sex Offenders

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 ...

Efforts to Keep COVID-19 Out of Montana Prisons Fuels Outbreaks in County Jails

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 ...

Denial of Recruitment of Counsel for Wisconsin Prisoner Affirmed by Seventh Circuit

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 ...

DOJ Finds Frequent Use of Excessive Force in Alabama Prisons

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 ...

Third Circuit: District Court Erred in Ruling Against Pennsylvania Prisoner’s Civil Rights Complaint

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, ...

Two-Thirds of Nevada Prisoners Confined in Arizona Private Prison Test Positive for COVID-19

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 ...

Washington Prisoner’s State Public Records Act Lawsuit Results in His Freedom and $111,194 Award

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 ...

New Jersey Guard Acquitted in Sex Scandal

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 ...

North Carolina Temporarily Closes Three Prisons for Lack of Guards; Final One Reopens During COVID-19 Pandemic

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 ...

Second Circuit Reverses Summary Dismissal of Connecticut Prisoner’s Failure-to-Protect Lawsuit

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 ...

$225,000 Windfall in Lehigh County, Pa. But Officials Don’t Cut Jail Phone Costs

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 ...

Pennsylvania Prisoner Loses Part of Leg, Wins Appeal in Precedential Grievance Process Case

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” ...

Private Prison Industry Ramped Up Campaign Contributions, Favoring Republicans

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 ...

Investment Firm Buys Corizon

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 ...

Florida Spent $1.7 Million, and Counting, to Impede Felon Voting Rights

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 [2019] 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 ...

$1.25 Million Settlement Against Tennessee County Over Sheriff’s Violations of Labor Law

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 ...

Ankle Monitor Shortage at Chicago Jail Put Prisoner Releases During COVID in Limbo

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, ...

Violence at New York City’s Rikers Island Jail Increasing Even as Population Falls

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 ...

Failed Michigan Jail Site to Host Innovation Center

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 ...

Second Circuit: Denial of Exercise Over Four Months Defeats Summary Judgment

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 ...

Report: Screening Failures Cited in COVID-19 Outbreak in California Prisons

“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, ...

Rikers Island Death Case Against City of New York Settles 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 ...

Families of 4 Alabama Prisoners Who Committed Suicide File Federal Lawsuit Against Prison Officials

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 ...

ICE Detainees Pepper-Sprayed Over Hunger Strike

“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 ...

Connecticut: Summary Judgment Denied in Deliberate Indifference Case Where Facial Lesion Turned Out To Be Skin Cancer

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 ...