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Prison Legal News: December, 2020

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Volume 31, Number 12

In this issue:

  1. Debit Card Issuers Still Prey on People Released from Prisons and Jails: HRDC Lawsuits Challenge Companies in Court (p 1)
  2. Arkansas Governor Hutchinson Grants Commutation for Blind Mother (p 9)
  3. From the Editor (p 10)
  4. $6 Million Payout in Montana Wrongful Conviction Case (p 11)
  5. NBA Owner Capitalizes on Mass Incarceration; Players Silent (p 12)
  6. University of Florida Still Using Prison Labor, But End in Sight (p 12)
  7. Texas Disguising Deaths in Custody (p 14)
  8. Administrator of “Whitey” Bulger’s Estate Sues BOP Over His Murder (p 16)
  9. North Carolina Case Involving Death of Black Prisoner: “I Can’t Breathe,” Revisited (p 18)
  10. Cost of Communicating with Prisoners Breaking Family Budgets During Pandemic (p 20)
  11. New Jersey Releases 2,258 Prisoners to Combat COVID-19 Spread (p 20)
  12. Pennsylvania Prisoner Off Death Row After 33 Years (p 22)
  13. Innovative Vermont Prison Superintendent’s Demotion for Sexist Language Proves Controversial (p 22)
  14. Another Prisoner’s Needless Death, Another Lawsuit at LaSalle-Run Texarkana Jail (p 24)
  15. Federal Judge Approves $25 Million Class Action Settlement Against Global Tel*Link (p 24)
  16. The Latest on COVID-19: Will Vaccines be Available Soon? (p 26)
  17. Former Prisoners Testify on Abuse at Notorious New Jersey Women’s Prison (p 28)
  18. Fifth Circuit Order Denies Texas Prisoners Hand Sanitizer and Cleaning Supplies (p 28)
  19. The Role of Prosecutors in Mass Incarceration (p 30)
  20. California Passes Bill Allowing ICE Detainees to Sue Private Contractors (p 30)
  21. COVID-19 Deaths in Jails, Prisons Exceed Number of Deaths by Execution From 1990 to Present (p 32)
  22. Missouri Executes Prisoner During COVID-19 Crisis (p 32)
  23. For Some Faiths in Los Angeles County Jails, Volunteer Chaplains Are in Short Supply (p 34)
  24. $5.9 Million Settlement in Death of Transgender Prisoner at New York’s Rikers Island (p 34)
  25. Connecticut Prisoner Commits Suicide With COVID-19 Protective Mask (p 36)
  26. Prisoners Exonerated in Michigan After Police Misconduct Revealed (p 36)
  27. Woman Sues Mississippi Parole Board for Discrimination and Retaliation (p 38)
  28. Maine Jail Gets a Pass for Using Pepper Spray on Mentally Ill Prisoners (p 38)
  29. Privatized Food Service Problems at Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County Jail (p 40)
  30. $177,500 Settlement in Lawsuit Over Five Louisiana Prisoners Pepper-Sprayed While Handcuffed (p 40)
  31. California Appellate Court Orders 50% Reduction in San Quentin Population Over Fears of COVID-19 Spread (p 42)
  32. COVID-19 Lockdowns in Prisons Affecting Post-Secondary Education (p 43)
  33. Indiana Prisoner Has First Amendment Retaliation Claims Rejected by Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (p 44)
  34. Nine Months Later, DOJ Still Hasn’t Provided Senator Rubio With Answers About Rampant Sexual Abuse at Women’s Prisons (p 44)
  35. Members of Congress Probe Pentagon on Accreditation of Military Prisons (p 45)
  36. COVID-19 in the Country’s Largest Female Prison (p 46)
  37. $11 Million Settlement in Illinois for Three Men Freed From Prison in Wrongful Convictions (p 46)
  38. Activists Call to Shut Down Illinois Prison (p 47)
  39. Suicides in New York SHUs Surge to Epidemic Levels (p 48)
  40. California Jail Prisoner Loses Limbs, but Faces Setback in Lawsuit Alleging Medical Neglect (p 48)
  41. Teen Spends 17 Months in Mississippi Jail Without Indictment (p 50)
  42. COVID-19 Strikes Alaskan Prison (p 50)
  43. California First State to Eliminate Post-Prison Fees (p 52)
  44. Julian Assange’s Potential Fate in U.S. Prisons (p 52)
  45. Families Must Pay for Cremation Bill of Loved Ones Who Die in Prison (p 53)
  46. Fifth Circuit Reinstates Texas Jail Suicide Lawsuit (p 54)
  47. Seventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Illinois Prisoner’s Lawsuit Alleging Dental Care Negligence (p 54)
  48. Former Transgender Prisoner Fights for LGBTQ Rights in Massachusetts Prisons (p 55)
  49. Eighth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Iowa Prisoner’s ADA Claim (p 56)
  50. Third Circuit Reinstates Claims by Immigration Detainee in GEO-Operated Prison Seeking to Marry U.S. Citizen (p 56)
  51. Nebraska Supreme Court Rules Execution Drug Documents Subject to Disclosure (p 58)
  52. DC Circuit Court: “Three Strike” Prisoners Must Show Imminent Danger to File Lawsuits (p 58)
  53. Whistleblower Claims Female Detainees at Privately Run Georgia ICE Facility Had Forced Hysterectomies (p 60)
  54. New Documentary Released on Forced Sterilizations of Female Prisoners (p 60)
  55. Maine Superspreader: Few Masks at Wedding Lead to Big Problems at Prison (p 62)
  56. News in Brief (p 62)

Debit Card Issuers Still Prey on People Released from Prisons and Jails: HRDC Lawsuits Challenge Companies in Court

Jails and prisons across the United States have for more than a decade increasingly used prepaid debit cards, or so-called prison release cards, to return personal funds to exiting arrestees and prisoners. Hidden fees are imposed on card users, which reduces the amount of money they get back. For debit card issuers, on the other hand, it’s been a gold mine For the most part, they take money in the form of fees, from the pockets of arrestees, even those who are never formally charged or prosecuted for their alleged crimes.

Three companies dominate the field: Numi Financial, Rapid Financial Solutions, and Miami-based JPay, which is owned by Securus, one of the nation’s largest providers of prison and jail ...

Arkansas Governor Hutchinson Grants Commutation for Blind Mother

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson agreed to commute Willie Mae Harris’ sentence after 34 years in prison for accidentally shooting her abusive husband. She was released on June 5, 2020.

Harris, 72, from Bradley, Arkansas was charged with murder in 1985 after an argument with then-husband Clyde. She tried to beat him back with a gun, which went off and killed him. Her 13-year-old daughter was present at the time. Harris refused a 20-year plea agreement, maintaining that it was an accident in self-defense. She was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life.

Harris was sent to Wrightsville Women’s Facility where she started teaching other prisoners how to read. According to her records, she has not received any disciplinary reports and has a risk assessment of “minimum.” She completed several programs, such as anger management and stress management, and attended self-help groups. She suffered a stroke in 2008, which took her eyesight.

Lee Eaton, a New Orleans attorney representing Harris, sought commutation for Harris several times in the past 11 years. Her daughter, Silvia Jackson Harris, who was not able to testify during her mother’s trial due to her age, was able to argue that the killing was unintentional and ...

From the Editor

Welcome to the last issue of PLN for 2020. It has been an eventful year that no one expected or planned for in January. Two companies, Pfizer and Moderna, have announced vaccines for COVID-19 claiming effectiveness rates of over 90%. So far, we have seen nothing about plans to ensure that prisoners receive access to vaccines. Our ruling class must be struggling with the quandary of whether to vaccinate prisoners first and see how well the vaccines work or leave prisoners last to ensure higher priority Americans get vaccinated first. We will report what happens.

Since the pandemic first started, our readers have been sending us updates and news developments about COVID-19 in the facilities they or their loved ones are imprisoned in. Please continue sending us your news and updates. As winter sets in, COVID-19 rates are likely to rise both inside and outside of prisons and jails, and we are likely to see even higher mortality rates. As we report, very few states are releasing convicted prisoners due to COVID-19 concerns, and prisoners are for the most part being left locked in cages with the government hoping not too many die.

By now all PLN subscribers should have ...

$6 Million Payout in Montana Wrongful Conviction Case

Plaintiffs Paul Jenkins, Kenneth Jenkins and Crystal Combs alleged in the complaint that misconduct carried out by authorities in Ravalli, Jefferson, and Lewis and Clark counties resulted in “extensive injuries suffered by Mr. Jenkins and his children as a direct result of his wrongful conviction on 1994 charges of homicide, aggravated kidnapping and robbery in the murder of Donna Meagher.

The plaintiffs’ complaint accused defendants of violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, including, “Claim for Deprivation of Liberty Without Due Process of Law, Deprivation of Right to Fair Trial, Deprivation of Right to be Free From Reckless Investigation, Deprivation of Right to be Free From Use of Fabricated Evidence and Deprivation of Right to be Free From Law Enforcement Conduct Constituting Deliberate Indifference or Reckless Disregard for the Truth Under the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Deputies and investigators in those counties engaged in a fruitless investigation of the murder, before ...

NBA Owner Capitalizes on Mass Incarceration; Players Silent

NBPA members went on a three-day playoff strike in August 2020, triggered by the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, who was left paralyzed, shot seven times as he leaned into a car. The strike resulted in an agreement between the league and players to establish a social-justice coalition and associated advertising with a focus on civic engagement, ballot access and reform of police and the criminal justice system. Franchises that own their own arenas pledged to “work with local elections officials to convert the facility into a voting location for the 2020 election.”

Yet the players and league were strangely silent about one of the owners exploiting incarcerated individuals for profit.

As reported in The American Prospect, Tom Gores, the owner of the Detroit Pistons NBA franchise, is a billionaire who founded Platinum Equity, a private ...

University of Florida Still Using Prison Labor, But End in Sight

Florida is one of the only remaining states that still use unpaid prison labor, and UF utilizes these services more than any other college in the state. They have logged over 156,000 labor hours supplied by the Florida Department of Corrections’ (FDC) workcamp prisoners in the past four years.

UF President Kent Fuchs released a statement that the university will not renew its contract with the FDC for the supply of this prison labor. But, the current contract already entered does not end until July 1, 2021.

The statement read in part: “As we move forward in implementing these initiatives, we are committed to this challenging, uncomfortable transformational work.”

Will Boose, founder of CAPS and a spring 2020 UF graduate, said this decision was long overdue and that continuing the current contract would be no more than an additional year of exploiting prisoners for free labor.

“The University just told us they will be ...

Texas Disguising Deaths in Custody

The awful details of her rough treatment came out when two of the jailers were indicted for criminally negligent homicide, and a $30 million wrongful death lawsuit was filed. However, charges against the jailers were mysteriously dropped when Visiting Judge Guy Griffin signed an order to quash the indictments against the two jailers, and a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit. 

Since this was a death in custody, or DIC, Deckard’s death was required by law to be reported to the state, and as such, the details and summary would be officially recorded.

However, that didn’t happen. There’s no record of her death in the custodial death database at the office of the Texas Attorney General (AG), and thus, neither the jail, the county sheriff, ...

Administrator of “Whitey” Bulger’s Estate Sues BOP Over His Murder

When the 89-year old, wheelchair-bound Bulger was murdered in federal prison in Hazelton, West Virginia, in 2018, it was a sadly predictable end to a life spent both dueling with law enforcement and also profiting from his association with its dark underbelly in Boston.

 Bulger, the acknowledged head of the feared Winter Hill Gang in South Boston in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, sparred with the rival Patirarca crime family for control of the rackets in that city, and was rumored to have cooperated with members of the FBI to undercut those rivals. His two alleged prison assailants had ties to the Patirarca organization, also referred to as the Italian Mafia.

The lawsuit was filed, “pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S. Ct. 1999, 29 L. Ed. 2d 619 (1971), against ...

North Carolina Case Involving Death of Black Prisoner: “I Can’t Breathe,” Revisited

Just before Neville, 56, lapsed into a coma at FCDC on December 2, 2019, he managed to rasp to the sheriff’s deputies and jail nurse who had hogtied him, “I can’t breathe.” Two days later, on December 4, 2019, he died at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center without ever having regained consciousness.

In the interim, Kimbrough’s office got O’Neill’s office to drop its charges against Neville. As a result, the death did not technically occur in custody, so the sheriff was relieved of any duty to report its details to the state Department of Health and Human Services. The death was not publicly reported for six months and then only under pressure from the Winston-Salem Journal.

It sounds like they rushed to get him out of custody so they would not have ...

Cost of Communicating with Prisoners Breaking Family Budgets During Pandemic

Most prisons have curtailed visitation, leaving families to communicate via phone calls, video chats, emails, and letters. Because prisons are cramped-quartered Petri dishes, families seek communication more often with their incarcerated loved one. The cost for services to communicate from prison are expensive, and as most prisoners rely on their family for money, those costs are born by their families.

Dominique Jones-Johnson said the cost of communicating with her father has strained her budget to the breaking point. Her father, Charles Brown, Jr., is serving time at Louisiana State Prison. A 15-minute call from the prison costs $3.15. By May 2020, Jones-Johnson had accrued nearly $400 for calls from the prison. The local calls would be free for anyone in the state but prisoners.

Jones-Johnson, who founded the charity Daughters Beyond Incarceration, said “the money stressed me out, but not talking to him stresses me out more.” That stress increased when Brown tested positive for COVID-19 in September 2020, and he was placed ...

New Jersey Releases 2,258 Prisoners to Combat COVID-19 Spread

The total number of releases announced represents almost 35 percent of the prisoners DOC held in its 12 facilities prior to the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. Both of those releases and the newest ones have been aimed at reducing crowding to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

As of November 6, 2020, DOC reported that 40 of its 18,300 prisoners and 59 of its 8,000 staff members were fighting the disease, which has infected a total of 3,052 state prisoners, according to statistics compiled by The Marshall Project. DOC has reported no deaths for weeks, a great improvement over the early days of the pandemic when most of New Jersey’s 52 COVID-19 prisoner deaths were recorded – enough still to leave the state with the highest rate in the nation.

Back on April 8, 2020, the state’s Office of the Public Defender and its chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) applied ...

Pennsylvania Prisoner Off Death Row After 33 Years

Porter, who is Black, was convicted in the 1985 shooting death of a White man, 52-year-old Raymond F. Fiss, Jr., during a robbery at his beauty shop in South Philadelphia. The crime led to racial unrest, with angry White citizens marching on City Hall.

A federal court in 2003 granted Porter’s habeas corpus request when it determined a verdict form used in the penalty phase of his case was unconstitutional. His death sentence was vacated and a new sentencing was ordered within 180 days. But both parties asked for a stay to that order while they pursued their appeals – the state of Pennsylvania, which wanted Porter’s death sentence re-instated, and Porter, who was challenging his conviction.

A stay was granted Porter by the Third ...

Innovative Vermont Prison Superintendent’s Demotion for Sexist Language Proves Controversial

by Jayson Hawkins

Former Vermont prison Superintendent Ed Adams has found himself the subject of repeated media scrutiny over the last few years, and his story is illustrative of the problems that surround prison reform, public records availability, and bridging the often jarring disconnect between societal norms and prison reality.

Adams worked as a guard for well over a decade before rising to become senior superintendent of Vermont’s only female prison in 2013. A few years later, he took over administration of the Southern State Correctional Facility, the state’s second largest prison. In 2016, he earned Department of Corrections manager of the year honors, and all the way through April 2018, his performance evaluations showed an overall assessment of “outstanding,” the highest grade given.

But Adams had been dogged by allegations of sexual harassment while running the women’s prison, and at the Southern State facility he was repeatedly accused of “creating a hostile work environment” through his reported use of sexist language, inappropriate sexual comments, and threats of retaliation toward prison staff, Vermont Digger reported in March 2020.

In September 2018, he was placed on administrative leave, and three months later, he accepted a demotion to probation officer at ...

Another Prisoner’s Needless Death, Another Lawsuit at LaSalle-Run Texarkana Jail

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards has cited the jail and its operator numerous times for noncompliance in connection to the deaths of multiple prisoners, yet LaSalle continues to be awarded the contract, and little has changed.

Holly Barlow-Austin, 46, was arrested for a probation violation on April 5, 2019. She required medication for HIV, depression and bipolar disorder, as well as a medication to prevent a potentially deadly fungal infection due to her highly compromised immune system. During intake, her blood pressure was 118/73, her other vitals were normal, and she was able-bodied, hydrated and well nourished. She informed LaSalle medical staff of her medication needs.

Jail staff failed to provide the needed medication and on April 8, 2019, Barlow-Austin’s husband brought her prescription medications to the jail ...

Federal Judge Approves $25 Million Class Action Settlement Against Global Tel*Link

Under the terms of the settlement, individuals incarcerated in New Jersey prison and jails between 2006 and 2016 who used the GTL phone system, as well as individuals who received telephone calls through the company from New Jersey prisoners before June 2010 or in Essex County, N.J., before June 2011, would be able to file claims.

GTL also had been heavily criticized for requiring people receiving calls from a prisoner to make deposits into a company account and then keeping those deposits if the accounts became “inactive,” generally after the prisoner had been released. Plaintiffs had alleged in their initial complaint that, “Defendants fail(ed) to inform their customers that they will be charged a service or set-up fee ...

The Latest on COVID-19: Will Vaccines be Available Soon?

Because deaths lag cases and hospitalizations by at least three weeks, we can expect the daily death rate to climb substantially in the coming months. Some are predicting over 3,000 dead per day by late December. Interventions to slow infections such as wearing masks, limiting indoor public encounters at bars, restaurants and gyms, limiting the number of people attending mass gatherings such as worship services, funerals and parties, are being initiated. It will take several weeks for such interventions to have an effect on infection rates. The pandemic is going to get a lot worse before the rate of daily new infections starts to decline.

That’s extremely troubling for prisoners and their families because prisons and jails have a higher rate of infection and death than the general U.S. population, largely due to overcrowding and an inability to social distance and obtain adequate personal protective equipment. In ...

Former Prisoners Testify on Abuse at Notorious New Jersey Women’s Prison

They said corruption and threats of retaliation were so prevalent that it created a culture of acceptance that has persisted for decades.

In April of this year, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the New Jersey District Attorney’s Office (DAO) released a 29-page report prepared after a two-year-long investigation of Edna Mahan, which stated that conditions at the prison violated prisoners’ constitutional rights. It gave a list of “Minimal Remedial Measures” necessary to rectify the situation. The report stated that these remedial measures must be addressed or the New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC) would be liable to lawsuit.

The investigation began after a series of arrests over a number of years (See: PLN, June 2019, p. 48). With the assistance of two expert consultants in correctional operations and sexual safety, an investigation team conducted a four-day ...

Fifth Circuit Order Denies Texas Prisoners Hand Sanitizer and Cleaning Supplies

According to the appeals court, “our conscribed role is not to assess whether prison officials could have done more to contain the virus—no doubt they could have. Nor is it to micromanage prison operations—that is left to the governor-appointed Board of Criminal Justice and to the Texas Legislature.” The court did note that 500 prisoners had been infected, and 20 had died. A certified class of affected prisoners had alleged  “violations of the Eighth Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act.”

The appellate court set aside a September 29, 2020 order by federal district court judge Keith Ellison, who wrote, “The Court acknowledges that (officials) have taken a number of steps to address the spread ...

The Role of Prosecutors in Mass Incarceration

Prosecutors are by far the most obscure variable in the criminal justice equation. They enjoy enormous discretion in their decision making, and much of what they do occurs in private meetings. Past efforts to study and quantify the role of prosecutors in the justice process have shed only limited light on how they make decisions, but a recent study published by the Southern California Law Review offers important insight into the decisions prosecutors routinely make and how those decisions could have an outsized impact on incarceration rates.

The study was carried out by Shima Baradaran Baughman at the University of Utah College of Law and Megan S. Wright at Pennsylvania State University. Five-hundred ...

California Passes Bill Allowing ICE Detainees to Sue Private Contractors

In the latest in an ongoing battle between California leaders and ICE officials, state Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) authored AB 3228 to combat abuse and neglect inside private detention facilities. “For-profit private detention centers must be held accountable in the face of egregious human rights violations and harm to the health, safety and welfare of Californians, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bonta said.

AB 3228 was an extension of Assembly Bill 32 (AB 32), also proposed by Bonta. AB 32 was passed to end the practice of private-run prisons in California. State-run facilities were responsible for the health and welfare of ICE detainees. If abuses were present, detainees had recourse to hold the federal government accountable through the Federal Tort Claims Act.

But private prison companies, such as the GEO Group, CoreCivic and Management and Training Corp., were not governed by the Act. So, the Assembly adopted AB 32, which held ...

COVID-19 Deaths in Jails, Prisons Exceed Number of Deaths by Execution From 1990 to Present

There the comparison ends. While executions come after the conclusion of formal legal proceedings, lengthy appeals and involve capital crimes, those who died of COVID-19 while incarcerated were often non-violent offenders, many already elderly, ill or medically compromised.

All COVID-related deaths are tragedies to the individuals and families personally impacted.

Also consider the suffering of prisoners who are forced to live in close proximity often without sufficient cleaning supplies, soap and personal protective equipment, in an environment where medical care is often an afterthought. A case of the virus will result in suffering generally alleviated only by Tylenol.

The entire purpose of prison is to confine, render powerless, and dehumanize those behind bars, and subject them to the whims of their jailors, who control every aspect of their daily lives. This level of control extends also to when — and if — they will be given medical treatment. However, prison staff have not gone untouched either, with ...

Missouri Executes Prisoner During COVID-19 Crisis

This is not so for the eye-for-an-eye and tooth-for-a-tooth state of Missouri where Walter “Arkie” Barton succumbed to that state’s murder machine on May 19, 2020. Making this particular execution even more horrible is the high probability that Barton is innocent of the murder for which he was convicted of — five separate times.

On October 9, 1991, 81-year-old Gladys Kuehler was stabbed over 50 times in her bedroom where her granddaughter and Barton later found her. The granddaughter embraced her body, then Barton pulled her away. Some of Kuehler’s blood had gotten on the granddaughter with some of it then being transferred to him. It would be this miniscule bit of blood that an expert on blood spatter (a now-discredited forensic method) would continuously testify resulted from a knife’s “impact” with the ...

For Some Faiths in Los Angeles County Jails, Volunteer Chaplains Are in Short Supply

Many prisoners are from broken homes, were homeless, or otherwise have no one who cares about them. The attention and compassion of a chaplain are their only source of human warmth.

But Los Angeles County, with a daily jail population around 17,600, doesn’t pay jail chaplains.

Consequently, the jails depend on volunteers and that means, for some faiths, demand far exceeds supply. “Certain communities are not as well-represented,” said Sheriff’s Sergeant Alex Gamboa, who works in the office of Religious and Volunteer Services for the county’s jails.

Gamboa acknowledged that only about 20 people are listed as Jewish volunteers, most of whom come to the jails “every blue moon.” He says funding of chaplains isn’t necessary when some religions — like the Christian faiths — have dozens or hundreds of volunteers. According to Gamboa, “Half our chaplains don’t ...

$5.9 Million Settlement in Death of Transgender Prisoner at New York’s Rikers Island

Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-Polanco, 27, a member of the prominent drag-scene ballroom group House of Xtravaganza, was arrested on misdemeanor prostitution and drug possession charges in 2017. She was sent to a diversion court, but missed court dates, resulting in a bench warrant being issued for her arrest. In 2019, she was arrested for assaulting a taxi driver.

Her alleged behavior motivated arresting officers to take Polanco to Bellevue Hospital for psychiatric evaluation. She was admitted and held for three days, and prescribed the anti-seizure medication Keppra upon discharge. She was taken to arraignment where a judge ordered her released on the assault charge. But he served the outstanding bench warrant and set bail at $501, an amount she could not afford.

Polanco was booked into RMSC, where she told staff she had a seizure disorder. ...

Connecticut Prisoner Commits Suicide With COVID-19 Protective Mask

His death made national news because it is the third suicide this year within the Connecticut Department of Corrections. Human rights activists are concerned about the effect coronavirus is having on people in prisons, especially those being treated for mental illnesses.

The crisis has caused prisons across the United States to lockdown their populations for safety reasons, and these lockdowns have prevented the continuous care of those with mental health problems.

Adding to the issue, the cash bail system in America forces people to await court dates in jail, where they may be prevented from receiving care that they would normally receive outside of jail. It is disproportionately people of color who are most affected by these problems.

Ocasio’s bail was $10,000, which means he was only required to deposit $1,000 with the courts and would receive the full amount in refund after his scheduled appearance. Even if he could not afford the $1,000, he could hire a bail bondsperson for much less to aid with his release.

Like many ...

Prisoners Exonerated in Michigan After Police Misconduct Revealed

Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy went on record stating, “These are the first cases that deal directly with fraudulent search warrant affidavits and other activities by highly unethical and compromised narcotics officers.” The narc who is responsible for these first of many expected exonerations is still employed by the Detroit Police Department (DPD) and is under investigation by its Internal Affairs Division (IAD). The probe is part of a wider investigation of the entire narcotics division in which the state police and FBI have joined.

Former DPD narc and current federal felon Michael Mosley presented false information regarding Richmond’s case. Mosley pleaded guilty in February 2020 before a federal judge to taking $15,000 in bribe money from a drug dealer. Mosley’s crimes led to the IAD raiding the narcotics division and seizing 50 computers and scores of case files.

DPD Chief James Craig admitted to the ongoing investigation uncovering a plethora of corruption ...

Woman Sues Mississippi Parole Board for Discrimination and Retaliation

Now 60, Krecic was 27, high on drugs and on the run from a Florida burglary warrant with boyfriend Tracy Allen Hansen when the couple’s car was pulled over by Mississippi Trooper David Bruce Ladner on April 10, 1987. Hansen shot Ladner in the neck and back and fled in his patrol car, leaving him to be found by another motorist, who took the trooper to a hospital where he died two days later.

The couple was captured and charged with his murder. Hansen was convicted and executed in 2002. Based on an empty holster found under the passenger seat of his car, authorities argued that Krecic had passed him the gun. At Krecic’s 1988 trial, another prisoner detained with her — who claimed to have heard this from Krecic — testified that she had not only passed the handgun to Hansen but ...

Maine Jail Gets a Pass for Using Pepper Spray on Mentally Ill Prisoners

The review by DOC manager of corrections Ryan Andersen drew a rebuke from Jenna Mehnert, the chief executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Maine (NAMI-Maine).

“They’re in a psychotic state,” she noted of the detainees.

That’s evidence of mental illness for which the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires agencies to make “accommodations,” she added. Yet Andersen’s report contains “not a single mention” of ADA, even though it “absolutely applies to the actions of law enforcement and corrections,” Mehnert said.

In the first incident in February 2019, jail staff spoke to a male detainee through a door slot in his cell, attempting to elicit voluntary compliance with transport to the state’s Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta. When that effort failed, guards flooded the cell with pepper spray to force the inmate’s cooperation so that they could apply handcuff restraints and get him out of his cell.

A month ...

Privatized Food Service Problems at Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County Jail

Much of the audit’s 34 pages focused on flawed record-keeping and Trinity either over charging for meals or failing to reimburse the county for commissions as stipulated in the contract. The county was overcharged at the Shuman Center, for example, by $8,413, including more than $6,000 for food donated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At the jail, the county was overbilled more than $1,600.

There also is a discrepancy concerning meals from a program called Trinity Take-Out, which allows prisoners to order specialty items like cheeseburgers and chicken sandwiches at prices ranging from $12 to $20. Trinity’s contract with the county provides ...

$177,500 Settlement in Lawsuit Over Five Louisiana Prisoners Pepper-Sprayed While Handcuffed

by Matt Clarke 

Thanks to a public records request by The Associated Press, news broke in March 2020 that Louisiana-based private prison firm LaSalle Management Company had settled for $177,500 a lawsuit over a 2016 incident in which five prisoners were pepper-sprayed while handcuffed and kneeling.

Adley T. Campbell, Darin Washington, Sidney Stephens, Jareth Vinet, and Jimmy Klobas were incarcerated at the LaSalle-operated Richwood Correctional Center in Ouachita Parish, Louisiana, when they were taken out of a dormitory, strip-searched and questioned whether their tattoos were gang-related. After they put their clothes back on, they were handcuffed and taken to a location known as the “White House,” where they were accused of being gang members, forced to kneel, and sprayed in the face with a chemical agent, which the documents called “mace” but was most likely pepper spray.

With the assistance of lawyers including Savannah, Georgia, attorney David J. Utter, the men filed a federal civil rights action in 2017, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against LaSalle, its insurers, and several of its former correctional employees, including Captain Roderick Douglas, 37, Sergeant Demario Shafer, 33, Lieutenant Christopher Loring, 35, and guards Quintal Credit, 26, and David Parker, 27. The ...

California Appellate Court Orders 50% Reduction in San Quentin Population Over Fears of COVID-19 Spread

The ruling, authored by Judge J. Anthony Kline, came in response to a habeas corpus petition filed in May 2020 by prisoner Ivan Von Staich. Through his appointed counsel, the 64-year-old alleged his continued incarceration at San Quentin—the state’s oldest prison—subjected him to conditions that so increased his risk of contracting COVID-19 that they violated prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment in both the California and U. S. constitutions.

His prediction came true. Shortly after Von Staich filed his petition, San Quentin suffered “the worst epidemiological disaster in California correctional history,” the court found, a “devastating outbreak of COVID-19 that infected approximately 75 percent of the inmate population and dozens of staff in just weeks.” As a result, it noted, “infection and mortality rates at San Quentin are higher than the rate for prisons statewide, and considerably higher ...

COVID-19 Lockdowns in Prisons Affecting Post-Secondary Education

Research has proven that post-secondary education in prisons is a powerful tool for successful reentry. “There is a strong case to be made for the critical nature of digital literacy in successful reentry and your ability to get a job after prison,” said Ruth Delaney, program manager at Vera Institute for Justice. “The difference in what the internet did in the late ’90s to what it does right now is night and day. You’d have to learn an entirely new way of operating.”

Even the Department of Education has shown its belief in the importance of post-secondary education in prison by allowing prisoners access to Pell Grants, something that had not been done since 1994.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, what progress that had been made with this disenfranchised group has been eradicated. Social distancing and institutional lockdowns have ceased all in-person education. As it stands, prisons are only required ...

Indiana Prisoner Has First Amendment Retaliation Claims Rejected by Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals

Nine Months Later, DOJ Still Hasn’t Provided Senator Rubio With Answers About Rampant Sexual Abuse at Women’s Prisons

The complaint, filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1346, names the United States as the defendant and describes horrific assaults. Plaintiffs Rachelle Beaubrun, Kayla Buchanan, Amanda Dimuro, Kristen Goduto, Kara Guggino, Sara Hoehn, April Johnson, Maggie Leon, Rebecca Mora, Terry Nagy-Philips, Lauren Reynolds, Ann Ursiny, Cristian Villalta-Garcia, and Karen Watson (collectively “Plaintiffs”) ranged in ages from 30 to 56 and were all first-time offenders incarcerated at the minimum security unit at Coleman Federal Correctional Institution (“Coleman”) in Sumpter County, Florida (with the exception of Plaintiff Guggino who was raped at the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee before being transferred to Coleman and sexually assaulted again).

The complaint alleges that Officers Palomares, Kuilan, Phillips, Campbell, Vann, Gonzalez, Laudenstager, and Urdialez admitted to investigators that they sexually abused the ...

Members of Congress Probe Pentagon on Accreditation of Military Prisons

“The importance of maintaining military facilities, especially military confinement and corrections facilities, that meet basic health and safety standards cannot be overstated, and we are pleased that the Department takes this issue seriously enough to seek accreditation for its facilities,” the lawmakers wrote. “Unfortunately, however, it is not clear that the ACA treats its duties as accreditor with the same respect and care.”

The letter came on the heels of an investigation Warren opened last year into the private prison accreditation industry following widespread reports of mismanagement and poor conditions for detainees in facilities across the U.S.

The ACA touts itself as the “voice of corrections,” auditing private and public detention facilities and accrediting over 1,500 facilities in 49 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico. The ACA also audits and accredits several military corrections facilities in the U.S. and abroad. But documents provided to Warren’s office reveal that the ACA has not denied accreditation ...

COVID-19 in the Country’s Largest Female Prison

The California Central Women’s Facility (CCWF) is large enough to easily comply with that court order and has assigned building 503 for that purpose, where 100 beds are used for isolating known infected prisoners.

But distressing stories have surfaced.

Prisoner Kandice Ortega was placed in 503 when her cellmate, not her, tested positive for COVID-19 in July 2020, according to the nonprofit newsroom The 19th. Ortega would test negative for the virus six times, but nonetheless remained there for several weeks.

CDCR public information officer Lt. Gene Norman denied this, stating, “When an inmate’s test [sic] have returned negative, they are released back into general population housing,” and further denied that any prisoners were placed in 503 before testing  positive for COVID-19 and stressed that 503 is kept clean and that guards wear ...

$11 Million Settlement in Illinois for Three Men Freed From Prison in Wrongful Convictions

Demarcus Hanson, 8, was fatally shot while sleeping at the home of his grandmother just before 3 a.m. on April 14, 2002. Alex Dowthard, Hanson’s uncle, was likely the intended target. During the investigation, Dowthard admitted to shooting at Tyjuan Anderson, Lumont Johnson, and Anthony Ross earlier that evening outside the M+M Market in Rockford. After initially denying being present when Hanson was shot, Dowthard later changed his story and claimed he saw Anderson, Johnson, and Ross exit a vehicle near his mother’s home and then heard shots fired toward the home.

Lataurean Brown transported Dowthard from the M+M Market to his mother’s home, where Dowthard ditched the gun he used at the market. Though he initially told police they left the home without witnessing the shooting and then visited Brown’s cousin Rickedda Young, Brown later changed his story and claimed he witnessed the three men fire shots at the house.

Without any physical evidence tying Anderson, ...

Activists Call to Shut Down Illinois Prison

The letter was sent to IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Exile on June 10, 2020. It claims VCC is “infested with black mold and rodents in the dining hall and kitchen, with feces in the food.” It also alleges the prison’s electrical system is deteriorated “to the point that the prison is being run on generators,” resulting in prisoners being unable to leave their cells to use the communal sinks to “wash their hands for many hours.”

It says the generators create noxious fumes and they are unreliable. It asserts that when the generators fail, medical professionals “try to dole out medication using flashlights,” which could result in “mistakes [that] are potentially lethal.”

“The combination of the COVID-19 threat with the extreme living conditions at the prison are a lethal mix, not only for individuals incarcerated in the facility but also for the staff and for the surrounding community in Southern Illinois,” the letter states. “COVID is a much greater threat to the lives of incarcerated individuals ...

Suicides in New York SHUs Surge to Epidemic Levels

Ten days later, Ben committed suicide.

Suicide rates inside New York’s state prison system have grown at an alarming pace since Ben took his life. According to a May 2020 report by the #HALTsolitary Campaign, which analyzed data obtained from the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) through public records requests, 75 people died by suicide in New York prisons from January 2015 to April 2020. There were 18 suicides in 2019 alone, which the report cites as 88% higher than the national average for all U.S. prisons.

#HALTsolitary Campaign’s findings also reveal distressing increases in suicide rates at New York’s solitary confinement units, or Special Housing Units (SHUs) in the state prison system’s jargon.

From January 2015 to April 2019, suicide attempts in SHUs ...

California Jail Prisoner Loses Limbs, but Faces Setback in Lawsuit Alleging Medical Neglect

The former inmate, Perry Belden, had sought documents proving the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office (SBCSO) failed to implement jail health care changes it agreed to in settling an earlier lawsuit. But U.S. District Judge Kenly Kiya Kato ruled against Belden.

Judge Kato noted that the settlement for that suit, Turner v. San Bernardino, was agreed to in a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the parties in 2015, well before Belden lost his hand and limbs in April 2018. However, the settlement itself was not officially approved by the parties and the court until June 2018 – killing Belden’s motions pursuant to it.

Belden was 27 when he was captured on March 27, 2018, by SBCSO deputies, 11 days after his mother called them to say he had assaulted her husband, Belden’s stepfather. Tracking Belden to a friend’s attic, deputies used pepper spray to flush him out. But the spray obscured Belden’s vision. He went ...

Teen Spends 17 Months in Mississippi Jail Without Indictment

William Haymon was just 13 years old when he was arrested for armed robbery in June 2018 and charged as an adult. Released on bond, Haymon was re-arrested eight months later on an aggravated assault charge, and his original bond was revoked. He has been held without bail since February 2019 in a Lexington, Mississippi adult regional jail.

The local district attorney, Akillie Malone-Oliver, says the delay is a result of turnover in the local police department that is investigating the charges. But in a state where the prosecution has no time limit within which to seek an indictment before a grand jury, Haymon may keep waiting.

Haymon’s attorney, Lawrence Blackmon, has argued that the state is violating his client’s constitutional right to a speedy ...

COVID-19 Strikes Alaskan Prison

 “In general, overall movement around the facility has been very restricted,” she told the Frontiersman. “I believe at Goose Creek [staff] are mandated to wear surgical masks, not just cloth face coverings but surgical masks as an additional PPE coverage, but you know they are members of the community and I think we’ve seen the Wasilla area is one of the highest covid infection rates in the state right now so we are doing everything we can to prevent the introduction but these people are members of that community and do serve as essential employees and have to report to work and we do everything we can to screen things out.”

On October 21, a total of 55 inmates tested positive at the Fairbanks ...

California First State to Eliminate Post-Prison Fees

Prior to the bill’s passage, Californians who were enmeshed in the criminal justice system were subject to a variety of fines and fees. The debts accumulated while in prison or jail did not disappear upon release. At least 45 individual fines and fees could be assessed from prisoners, two-thirds of which were administrative fees. The goal of these fees was to recoup some of the cost of the prisoner’s passage through the courts and penal system, and even though the original intent was not to administer further punishment through fees, the effect was decidedly punitive.

The majority of people who pass through the criminal justice system in California and elsewhere are already poor, and even a short stint in ...

Julian Assange’s Potential Fate in U.S. Prisons

Assange is under a 17-count indictment in the U.S. for violations of the Espionage Act and one unsealed count, bringing the total to 18 counts. American Justice Department officials allege that Assange violated the Espionage Act when he published classified documents obtained by Chelsea Manning, who was a U.S. Army soldier at the time.

On September 28, the London court considering Assange’s extradition heard testimony describing prison conditions at the facilities where Assange would likely be held. The testimony revolved around four key issues: 1) the general conditions at the facilities, 2) whether Assange would be able to interact with other prisoners regularly, 3) the standard of medical care available, and 4) what, if any, “special administrative measures” (SAMs) prison officials might impose on Assange that could make his imprisonment worse.

The Court heard from Joel Sickler, a prisoner advocate, and Yancey Ellis, a defense attorney. They both testified that Assange would likely be detained at the Alexandria Detention Center (ADC) until trial, ...

Families Must Pay for Cremation Bill of Loved Ones Who Die in Prison

Melford was scheduled for release at the end of 2020. He and Tracy maintained contact daily through phone calls until sometime in April. On April 29, Tracy received a call from a Chino hospital to inform her that Melford was at the facility on a ventilator battling COVID-19. He died a week later.

When Tracy contacted the mortuary that services the prison to collect her husband’s remains, she learned that California law required that family members claiming the remains of anyone who has died in prison are responsible for the costs of all burial services, otherwise the body will be considered “unclaimed” and the ashes will be scattered at sea. “I cried my eyes out,” said Tracy when she heard this. “ I don’t have that kind of money sitting around.”

California is not the only state that requires surviving relatives pay to claim prisoners’ bodies. Indeed, most do. And ...

Fifth Circuit Reinstates Texas Jail Suicide Lawsuit

A passerby told City of Kemah, Texas Police Officer Marcus Way that a man, later identified as Chad Ernest Lee Silvis, 26, was threatening to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge. Way reported a possible “jumper” on his police radio. Officers James Melton and Ruben Kimball, along with dispatcher Anna Maria Whelan, heard the broadcast. Way, Kimball and Melton met at the bridge and, after conversing with Silvis, Melton managed to forcibly pull him off the bridge railing. They took him to the city jail and watched while he was booked.

Kimball prepared a cell and gave Silvis a blanket. Way told Kimball to take his shoes. After he was booked, Way, Kimball, Melton, and Whelan all observed Silvis in his cell with the blanket.

Silvis was disruptive, yelling for medical help, banging his hands against the cell door and shouting that he ...

Seventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Illinois Prisoner’s Lawsuit Alleging Dental Care Negligence

Illinois prisoner Aaron Murphy had a molar in his upper-left jaw extracted on May 4, 2016, by a dentist at his prison. Two days later, a Friday, Murphy went to the prison’s health-care unit with a “softball-sized” swelling in his cheek. Suspecting infection, the nurse spoke to Dr. Vipin Shah, who worked for the prison’s medical contractor, Wexford Health Services, Inc.

Shah prescribed penicillin by mouth twice a day for five days because it is “one of the most commonly chosen drugs for M.D.s for medical infection.” Murphy alleged he received one dose that morning, but he could not orally take further doses due to the swelling. The next day, Murphy reported twice to medical due to difficulty swallowing; he was unable to open his mouth wide enough for a nurse’s exam due to the swelling. He was given Benadryl. Shah was subsequently contacted and unconcerned because penicillin takes days to work, but he ordered a steroid injection.

Two days after that, Shah examined Murphy ...

Former Transgender Prisoner Fights for LGBTQ Rights in Massachusetts Prisons

Resto, 55, said she has lived as a woman for the past 40 years. She was arrested for a non-violent drug offense in 2016 and was sentenced to four years. Upon arriving at Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk, she stated that she was sexually harassed by prisoners and guards alike. “They would make comments on what they wanted to do to me sexually,” she said.

With the help of Prison Legal Services of Boston, Resto filed suit against the DOC asserting that she suffered from gender dysphoria and needed to be transferred to a woman’s facility. The court ruled in Resto’s favor, and she was transferred to the woman’s facility in Framingham in 2018 where she was later released in April 2019. (see: Doe v. Mass. Dep’t of Corr., Case No. 17-12255-RGS, ...

Eighth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Iowa Prisoner’s ADA Claim

Newton Correctional Facility (NCF) former prisoner Michael T. Rinehart had been diagnosed with diverticulitis, a chronic colon condition that causes diarrhea and constipation.

While he was treated for the condition, he suffers severe flare-ups that make immediate use of a toilet a medical necessity. As a result, Rinehart was moved to a unit with in-cell toilets.

NCF has a multi-level privilege system that rewards prisoners for good behavior. Since 2001, Rinehart had level-five status, which was the highest level at the time, but he went to level-six in late 2017. It included privileges of extended visiting hours, yard time after the evening meal, ability to choose a cell and cellmate, ability to purchase certain canteen items and late night privileges.

In 2016, prisoners at that level-five status moved to Unit E, which does not provide a toilet in each cell. That situation prevented Rinehart from making the move, so he requested a medical exception to stay in his cell and maintain his level-five privileges. Prison officials denied the request, and ...

Third Circuit Reinstates Claims by Immigration Detainee in GEO-Operated Prison Seeking to Marry U.S. Citizen

Brian A. Davis, an immigration detainee being held at a Pennsylvania private prison that houses foreign nationals awaiting deportation or deportation proceedings, sought permission to marry his U.S. citizen fiancée, Fredericka K. Bedford. They complied with the prison’s regulations, which exceeded the BOP’s, but permission was denied.

The couple filed a federal civil rights lawsuit pursuant to Bevins, 42 U.S.D. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985(3) and 2000d, and other state and federal laws, alleging they were denied their constitutional right to be married because of unlawful discrimination. The district court adopted without analysis a magistrate judge’s report recommending dismissal of all claims. The report reasoned that GEO employees were not federal actors and the two federal officials who were sued were not properly served.

On appeal, the Third Circuit held that the district court erred when it failed to undertake the required two-step process to determine whether ...

Nebraska Supreme Court Rules Execution Drug Documents Subject to Disclosure

BH Media Group, doing business as (dba) Omaha World Herald, Lee Enterprises, Inc., dba Lincoln Journal Star, and Amy Miller and ACLU of Nebraska Foundation (relators) filed separate public records requests seeking information from the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (DCS) related to the department’s procurement of drugs used for lethal injection executions.

The DCS provided some documents and informed them that it had withheld additional documents because they were exempt from disclosure under Neb. Rev. Stat. § 83-967(2) and not public records under § 84-712.01(1).

The relators separately petitioned a district court for a writ of mandamus to compel disclosure.

DCS officials testified that disclosure would either reveal the privileged name of an execution team member that was written on the document or reveal the name of the drug supplier, who then could be asked the name of the execution team member.

The court found that the ...

DC Circuit Court: “Three Strike” Prisoners Must Show Imminent Danger to File Lawsuits

The court’s July 7, 2020, opinion was issued in appeals brought by Jeremy Pinson and Michael S. Gorbey. Both are considered “three-strikers” under the PLRA’s informa pauperis provision. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) allows prisoners to proceed by paying the filing fee in installments over time, but it requires the fee to be paid in full if a prisoner has “on 3 or more occasions” had a “civil action or appeal” of a civil judgment “dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, unless the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury.”

At issue was whether in determining the applicability of the imminent danger exception on appeal, is the focus on the relevant conditions at the time of bringing the ...

Whistleblower Claims Female Detainees at Privately Run Georgia ICE Facility Had Forced Hysterectomies

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) added her voice to the chorus calling for OIG to thoroughly investigate the allegations of the whistleblower, Dawn Wooten, a full-time nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Ocilla, Georgia.

In the main part of her statement, Wooten alleged that medical staff at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility had responded maliciously to the coronavirus pandemic, refusing to test or treat immigrants showing signs of COVID-19, ignoring and shredding medical request forms and even falsifying medical records.

But she also made another startling allegation: Hysterectomies were performed on several female detainees without their informed consent. She said she and other employees were concerned that an outside doctor contracted by the facility “takes everybody’s stuff out.”

“That’s his specialty,” she said, referring to the doctor, an obstetrician and gynecologist later identified as Dr. Mahendra Amin. “He’s the uterus collector.”

If detainees complained, ...

New Documentary Released on Forced Sterilizations of Female Prisoners

The “freedom-loving” U.S. has been practicing the forced sterilization of its least desirable citizens since the early twentieth century.

At least 30 states began officially and formally sanctioning this practice under the “1907 Indiana Eugenics Law.” It is conservatively estimated that over 60,000 American citizens suffered this procedure until it was supposedly abolished little by little, state by state, in the 1970s.

Even now, however, forced sterilization through tubal and bilateral tubal ligation for females and vasectomies for males continues in the U.S. The group of undesirables targeted for these procedures now are prisoners. The largest demographic subset ...

Maine Superspreader: Few Masks at Wedding Lead to Big Problems at Prison

Within two weeks, other staff members and inmates at the jail began to test positive for COVID-19. By October 6, nearly 90 cases tied to the lock-up had been recorded — an incredible number for a jail with only 116 prisoners.

The cramped conditions of incarceration often render social distancing impossible, which has forced facilities to focus on other means of continuing the spread of the coronavirus. Mask wearing ranks at the top of that list, yet a policy reportedly in place at the York County Jail discourages the practice. Media revealed an email to staff saying prisoners ...

News in Brief

Alabama: Chanting “not one more,” about 30 carloads of protesters from “Alabamians Who Care” caravanned to the governor’s mansion in Montgomery on August 1, 2020, protesting a plan by Gov. Kay Ivey (R) to build three new “mega-prisons.” According to a report by Montgomery TV station WSFA, the protesters demanded that Ivey instead focus the state parole board’s attention on making its hearings more impartial, which they say would be a more cost-effective way of relieving overcrowding in the state’s prisons. The caravan happened just over a week after the release on July 23, 2020, of an investigative report by the U.S. Department of Justice, which concluded that the state Department of Corrections (DOC) was likely violating the constitutional rights of the prisoners it held through both use of excessive force and unsafe, overcrowded conditions. As previously reported by PLN, relieving overcrowding in DOC facilities was also part of a 2017 consent order granted by federal Judge Myron H. Thompson, in which he called the mental health care afforded state prisoners “horrendously inadequate” (See PLN, Nov. 2017, p.28). On September 3, 2020, in the judge’s latest ruling in that case, he accepted a plan to monitor DOC’s progress – something ...