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Prison Legal News: March, 2020

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Volume 31, Number 3

In this issue:

  1. Inside the US Marshals’ Secretive, Deadly Detention Empire (p 1)
  2. Lethal Prison Electric Fences May Violate International Law (p 16)
  3. From the Editor (p 18)
  4. Biden’s Current Prison Reform Stance Counter to His Abysmal Record (p 18)
  5. Oregon Lawmakers Prohibit Prison and Jail Telephone Kickbacks (p 20)
  6. It’s Time For the Feds To Fund College Education For Prisoners, Again (p 22)
  7. $1.15 Million Settlement in Pennsylvania Prisoner’s Asthma Death (p 24)
  8. Neither Fines Nor Lawsuits Deter Corizon From Delivering Substandard Health Care (p 24)
  9. $2.5 Million Settlement Over Prisoner’s Restraint Death in Houston, Texas Jail (p 26)
  10. Major Prison Health Care Companies Funnel Campaign Contributions to Sheriffs, Get Rewards (p 26)
  11. Louisiana Sheriff Re-Elected Despite Prisoner Death Toll (p 28)
  12. Pennsylvania GEO-Run Jail Boss Resigns After Media Reveals Complaints of Racism, Abuse at Private Prison (p 28)
  13. $200,000 Settlement in Lawsuit Over Louisiana Jail Guard Sexually Abusing Juvenile (p 29)
  14. Federal Court Orders Videophone Access for Deaf Prisoners in Colorado (p 30)
  15. Hawaii Prisoners Rebel Over Prison Conditions, Fined For Damages (p 30)
  16. Seventh Circuit Upholds Denial of Wisconsin Prisoner’s Request to Marry Psychologist (p 31)
  17. Death Highlights Need for Change in Texas GEO-Run Prison (p 32)
  18. States Move for True Second Chance Opportunities (p 32)
  19. Oklahoma Commutations Largest Mass Release in U.S. History (p 34)
  20. California: Qualified Attorney Work-Product Protection Applies to Discovery During Habeas Proceedings (p 34)
  21. Court Grants Bail to Ex-Peruvian President Challenging Extradition Due to Solitary Confinement (p 35)
  22. States Rush to End Prison Gerrymandering Before Districts Are Set For Another 10 years (p 36)
  23. Guard Who Failed to Prevent Escape Entitled to Qualified Immunity (p 36)
  24. Report Published on Louisiana’s Extensive Use Of Solitary Confinement (p 38)
  25. Seventh Circuit Upholds Prison Guard’s Rape Convictions, But County Not Liable (p 38)
  26. Long-running Maricopa County, Arizona Jail Lawsuit Ends (p 39)
  27. Suicide or Murder? Jeffrey Epstein’s Death Still Drawing Attention to Bureau Inadequacies (p 40)
  28. Court Confirms Pennsylvania Prisoner’s Sentence in Tobacco Contraband Case (p 41)
  29. Michigan Finding Success With More Humane Treatment of Mentally Ill Prisoners (p 42)
  30. $150,000 Settlement for Opioid Withdrawal Death in Indiana County Jail (p 42)
  31. Cook County Jail’s Three Book Possession Policy Constitutional (p 43)
  32. Federal Prisoner to Receive Opioid Addiction Medication While Incarcerated (p 44)
  33. “Free” E-Tablets Are Anything But (p 44)
  34. $12.6 Million Jury Award for Man Denied Medical Care Before Jailed (p 45)
  35. Riots At South Carolina Prison Spark Wave of Lawsuits (p 46)
  36. Alabama Jail Guards Face Liability for Inaction to Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms (p 46)
  37. Florida Prison Isolation Suit Survives Dismissal Stage (p 47)
  38. Fulton County Ordered to Clean Up Repulsive Jail Conditions for Mentally Ill Women (p 48)
  39. Senator Warren Has Plan To Ban Private Prison Contracts (p 48)
  40. Veteran Dies After Beating by Guards at North Carolina Jail (p 50)
  41. Report Decries Ongoing Inadequate Medical Care for Pregnant Arizona Prisoners (p 50)
  42. $300,000 Settlement in Lincoln County Missouri Jail Attempted Suicide Suit (p 52)
  43. $550,000 Settlement in Nationwide Class-Action Lawsuit Over High-Fee Debit Cards (p 52)
  44. $250,000 Settlement in Assault Upon Luzerne County Detainee (p 53)
  45. Most States Saw Criminal Justice Reforms in 2019, But Incarceration Rates Remain High (p 54)
  46. Santa Rita Sheriff’s Office Says Prisoners Not Being Maltreated; Prisoners’ Protest Says Otherwise (p 56)
  47. Sacramento County Jail Settles Solitary Confinement Class Action Suit (p 57)
  48. Court Holds Federal Tort Claim Against BOP Can Proceed in MCC Beating Death (p 58)
  49. 18-Month Prison Sentence for Former Alabama Sheriff in Food Bank Scam (p 58)
  50. Get Celebrity Endorsement and Get Pardoned (p 58)
  51. $850,000 Settlement in Florida DOC Prisoner’s Gassing Murder (p 60)
  52. $10 Million Post-Appeal Settlement in Oklahoma Jail Prisoner Death Suit (p 60)
  53. PLN Awarded Injunction in Arizona Prison Censorship Suit (p 61)
  54. Public Relations Firm Terminates Contract With GEO Group (p 62)
  55. News in Brief (p 62)

Inside the US Marshals’ Secretive, Deadly Detention Empire

They’re supposed to safeguard pretrial detainees. But America’s oldest law enforcement agency is suffering from a massive dereliction of duty.

by Seth Freed Wessler, Mother Jones

A large rectangle of red dirt on the flat expanse of West Texas’ Permian Basin reminds Sadrac Garcia every day of what his family has lost. A few months ago, he could stand on the small porch of his brother Juan’s double-wide and peer into the window of their parents’ trailer a few meters away. Until 2017, three generations of Garcias lived on these couple of acres. The family is slowly selling off the homes and the land, an attempt to move on after their father, Isac Garcia-Wislar, died in the custody of a local jail.

Sadrac, soft-spoken but direct, is tall and solidly built, with a rough goatee and a white cowboy hat. He shows me a photo of his father on this late August afternoon; they look nearly identical. “It’s very sad being here,” he tells me. Sadrac has moved to Odessa, about 20 minutes away. Yesenia Garcia, his mother, is living in Fort Worth with her daughter, Arely. But moving has not helped with moving on. “I never really stop thinking ...

Lethal Prison Electric Fences May Violate International Law

by Matt Clarke

A solicitation of bids last Novem-­​­ber to refurbish a “non-lethal/lethal” electric fence surrounding a federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) prison in Tucson, Arizona, resulted in three offers between $3.3 million and $3.8 million and some questions over whether the electric fences comport with international law.

The trend toward installing potentially lethal electric fences around prisons started in the 1990s as a cost-cutting measure. California installed its first of 25 lethal electric prison fences at the Calipatria State Prison in 1993. The lethal Calipatria fence delivers 500 amperes at 4,000 volts.

The fences were installed not because of a problem with escapes — which dropped by 84% between 1972 and 1991. Rather, the issue was saving an estimated $42 million annually by eliminating tower guards.

Ironically, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the union for California prison guards, supported the legislation that authorized the electric fences. The union later changed its mind after numerous guard positions were cut. Nonetheless, the fences were installed at 25 of California’s 33 prisons.

Massachusetts and Indiana installed electric fences before California. Alabama, Arkansas, Nevada, and Missouri have used electric prison fencing for decades.

The BOP began an electric fence program for at ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

Anyone who has been arrested by the federal government can attest to the experience of being held in custody by the U.S. Marshals Service. While the federal Bureau of Prisons operates a few pretrial detention centers (aka jails) in large cities, the vast majority of federal defendants awaiting trial are officially held in the custody of the Marshals Service, which generally contracts the caging to local jails. Only rarely does the treatment of federal pretrial detainees in the Marshals’ custody come to light and this month’s cover story is a much needed examination of what happens to its prisoners.

For various reasons, there is little litigation by those injured and killed in Marshals’ custody, which closes one of the few windows into that carceral world. Seth Freed Wessler’s long overdue cover story this month is a much needed review of how the Marshals Service handles prisoners in its legal custody. Along with the massive expansion of the American police state in the past 40 years has been the concurrent explosion of its prisoner population, who are held by an alphabet soup of thousands of police agencies at the city, county, state, regional and federal level. These agencies ...

Biden’s Current Prison Reform Stance Counter to His Abysmal Record

by David M. Reutter

After decades of leading the charge during the tough-on-crime era, Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. is trying to fashion himself as a champion of prison reform. Since July 2019 his campaign website has included proposals to abolish the death penalty, legalize marijuana use and reform sentencing laws, as well as a push to “stop corporations from profiting off of incarceration.”

But that position is far from the one he took as a senator in 1989, at the height of a crime wave that led to many of the country’s anti-drug policies which encouraged mass-incarceration. Back then Biden went on television to criticize as inadequately harsh the plan of President George H.W. Bush to escalate the war on drugs.

“Quite frankly, the president’s plan is not tough enough, bold enough, or imaginative enough to meet the crisis at hand,” said Biden, who wanted not only tougher penalties for drug dealers, but also to “hold every drug user accountable.”

In criticizing Bush’s plan, Biden said it “doesn’t include enough police officers to catch the violent thugs, not enough prosecutors to convict them, not enough judges to sentence them, and not enough ...

Oregon Lawmakers Prohibit Prison and Jail Telephone Kickbacks

by Mark Wilson

This isn’t just an issue of economics,” said Oregon Senator Sara Gelser, the chief sponsor of a bill prohibiting jail and prison telephone contract kickbacks that passed nearly unanimously. “This is really about the humanity of the people that are in our prisons and the ability of people to remain connected to the people that they love, the people that they need to be successful in their programs in prison.”

A February 2019 study by the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) found that prisoners as well as pre-trial detainees in the U.S. are charged up to $22 for a 15-minute phone call, though that rate has been declining over time. As previously reported in PLN, some companies which offer video-visitation – now available at over 500 prisons and jails in at least 43 states - require prisons to restrict in-person visitation, as well.

“The jail phone industry is broken largely because jail phone companies compete for monopolies,” said PPI’s Wanda Bertram. “They do this by sharing revenue with the facilities themselves…That means part of the contracting process is distorted by collusion between jail phone companies and facilities.”

During a February 2019 public hearing on Senate Bill 498, ...

It’s Time For the Feds To Fund College Education For Prisoners, Again

by Anthony W. Accurso

Twenty-five years after the federal government restricted prisoners from obtaining Pell Grants to pay for higher education while incarcerated, bipartisan support for new legislation reinstating access is gaining ground in the national conversation surrounding mass incarceration.

“Education is to the future for just about anyone and everyone. So we should be embracing these opportunities for brothers and sisters who are behind bars today who will be in our communities and with their families and giving them a means for a purpose … and giving them that kind of opportunity to pursue the next right thing for themselves.”

These words were spoken by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos at Prison Fellowship’s Justice Declaration Symposium held last September at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. DeVos encouraged 80 church leaders to lobby congressional offices to support legislation that would restore access to Pell Grant money for prisoners.

“We all need second chances,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if we are ever behind bars or not. We all make mistakes and we all need a chance to be redeemed. I think that this, from my perspective, is really a no brainer, to put in my grandchild’s terminology.” ...

$1.15 Million Settlement in Pennsylvania Prisoner’s Asthma Death

by David M. Reutter

Pennsylvania’s Erie County agreed to pay $1.15 million to settle a civil rights action alleging the county jail had a policy that “required a non-medical person to make a medical decision about what to do with someone suffering from a medical emergency.”

The lawsuit was filed by the estate of prisoner Felix L. Manus, 48, after he died following asthma complications. Manus was serving a three-month sentence for failing to pay $750 in child support; he was assigned to the work-release program at Erie County Prison (ECP), which allowed him to work during the day to earn money to pay his child support.

Along with four other prisoners, Manus was employed at the Erie Hunt and Saddle Club on May 30, 2018, “mowing grass, weed whacking, and painting in the hot sun,” the complaint stated. He asked near the end of the shift to switch from mowing grass to painting as he was having difficulty breathing.

Because he suffered from asthma, Manus carried an inhaler at all times. As he completed his work, Manus told another prisoner his inhaler was empty. When guard Joshua Pietas arrived around 4:15 p.m. to take the prisoners back to ECP, ...

Neither Fines Nor Lawsuits Deter Corizon From Delivering Substandard Health Care

by Matt Clarke

In 2018, Corizon Health was the largest for-profit provider of prisoner health care in the country. It contracted with 534 correctional facilities in 27 states holding about 15 percent of the nation’s prisoners. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Corizon was sued for malpractice 660 times within five years. It was also subject to millions of dollars in fines and penalties by the governmental entities it contracted with — usually for inadequate staffing. Yet the understaffing and substandard health care continues unabated and prisoner deaths continue to mount while Corizon treats fines, penalties, settlements and jury awards as merely a cost of doing business —not as a catalyst for change to providing adequate health care.

Corizon provides prisoner health care for the Kansas Department of Corrections (DOC). Unlike most entities contracting with Corizon, Kansas provided for oversight of Corizon’s performance by a third party. The University of Kansas Medical Center (UKMC) reviews a sample of health-care records at DOC prisons each year. Perhaps that is why Kansas has assessed Corizon penalties of $1 million for underperformance and $6.4 million for short staffing between July 2015 and December 2018.

When asked for records about its provision of ...

$2.5 Million Settlement Over Prisoner’s Restraint Death in Houston, Texas Jail

by Matt Clarke

The family of a man who died at a jail in Harris County, Texas while being subjected to a dangerous form of restraint settled for $2.5 million in a lawsuit they brought against the county and seven jail officials.

Kenneth Christopher Lucas, 38, was arrested on a child custody issue. About a week later, jailers entered his cell because he had refused to turn over a sharpened piece of metal he had fashioned after breaking a smoke detector. They handcuffed him and placed him face-down on a gurney while a guard sat on his back to keep him from moving. They also had a nurse administer a sedative to him.

The 2014 incident was video-recorded. During the 30-minute ordeal, Lucas repeatedly warned staff that he was unable to breathe and “going to pass out.” They ignored the warnings and Lucas died. The medical examiner ruled his death was a “sudden cardiac death due to hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease during physical restraint.”

Aided by Austin attorney Jeff Edwards, the Lucas family filed a federal civil rights action on behalf of his children under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. ...

Major Prison Health Care Companies Funnel Campaign Contributions to Sheriffs, Get Rewards

by David M. Reutter

Campaign contributions from private medical provider Wellpath to Virginia’s Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman may be legal under Virginia law but are raising ethical questions. Wellpath is already under federal investigation for a contract renewal in Norfolk County.

Wellpath was known as Correct Care Solutions until October of 2018. Correct Care obtained the contract to provide medical and mental health care to detainees at the Loudoun County Adult Detention Center in 2005. It then began to make thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to former Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson.

Chapman was elected sheriff in 2012, and Correct Care made its first contribution to Chapman’s reelection campaign in 2014. Since then, Chapman has accepted at least $14,750 from the prison-profiteering health-care company. Wellpath has 245 contracts to provide health care to detainees across the nation.

It stays active in the political process. Over a 12-year period, Wellpath and Correct Care contributed around $41,000 to Virginia sheriffs. “This is so widespread and so common, it’s the status quo,” said Max Rose, executive director of Sheriffs for Trusting Communities.

Such contributions are “ethically questionable” said Chapman’s opponent for sheriff, Justin Hannah. “When the Sheriff is accepting political donations in ...

Louisiana Sheriff Re-Elected Despite Prisoner Death Toll

by Jayson Hawkins 

Jail conditions are seldom equated to accommodations at a five-star hotel. Even so, there are lockups where the environment threatens a clear and ever-present danger to prisoners and staff alike. Such is the case at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison (EBRPP) a community jail that a 2018 Reuters report called a “ticking time bomb.” 

Sixteen men have died while in custody at EBRPP during the past two years, a number that jumps to over 40 deaths since 2012.

Sheriff Sid Gautreaux III, who has had responsibility for the facility since taking office in 2007, has deflected the blame to the jail’s health-care provider, the lack of space and outdated infrastructure inside the facility, and, ultimately, on the types of people incarcerated there. 

“The majority of deaths that occur at EBRPP have been a result of poor health and pre-existing conditions prior to entering the prison,” Gautreaux’s office commented, adding that “a large portion of the prison population suffers from drug addiction and the effects of prolonged drug use.” 

Whatever challenges the incarcerated population might face do not excuse Gautreaux’s lack of action, advocates for reform have argued. Sheriffs in Louisiana are granted extensive ...

Pennsylvania GEO-Run Jail Boss Resigns After Media Reveals Complaints of Racism, Abuse at Private Prison

by David M. Reutter

The superintendent of Pennsyl­vania’s George W. Hill Correc­tional Facility, which is run by GEO Group, resigned in November after a media investigation uncovered a buried whistleblower complaint alleging racist and abusive behavior.

John A. Reilly, Jr., was recruited in 2001 as deputy superintendent George W. Hill. “When I came here, it was made clear to me that you’ve got to get up to speed to replace George, if something happens,” Reilly said of Hill, who had health problems. Hill retired in 2008, and Reilly replaced him.

“By then, the jail had attracted notoriety after a series of grim developments, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported this year. “Twelve inmates died at the facility between 2002 and 2008, and lawsuits filed by their families against the prison company resulted in more than half a million dollars in wrongful-death settlements. Two years ago, GEO paid a $7 million settlement to the family of Janene Wallace, a mentally ill 35-year-old woman who had been incarcerated on a probation violation, and then hanged herself after 52 days in solitary confinement.”

One might wonder why an assistant prosecutor like Reilly would be tapped to run a private jail. Critics say it ...

$200,000 Settlement in Lawsuit Over Louisiana Jail Guard Sexually Abusing Juvenile

by David M. Reutter

A $200,000 settlement was reached to resolve a civil rights action alleging a guard at Louisiana’s St. Bernard Parish Jail subjected a 15-year-old detainee to repeated sexual abuse.

The complaint stated that every day that guard Eddie Williams, 69, worked between June 2015 and January 2016, he subjected a female juvenile identified as “C.L.” to sexual abuse. According to the lawsuit, Williams asked to see her in her “birthday suit,” ordered her to get naked by taking off her top and bottom, told her to masturbate as he watched, ordered her to sit on the ground in her underwear and naked with her legs spread, and told her to stand in a specific spot prior to entering the shower.
Williams conducted this activity via intercom and viewed C.L. from a video-feed. His behavior “became more and more sexually suggestive and explicit during C.L.’s incarceration.” To persuade her to comply with his orders, he “bribed” her with candy and other food. Once, he allegedly said, “I don’t have any candy, but I have something else for you to put in your mouth.”

Williams also told C.L. he knew where her mother lived, and that he would “hurt ...

Federal Court Orders Videophone Access for Deaf Prisoners in Colorado

by Matt Clarke

On September 18, 2019, a federal district court ordered the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) to provide access to videophones for all of its deaf and hard of hearing prisoners and prisoners who wish to communicate with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The court ordered the DOC to implement policies and procedures for videophone use, compliance monitoring, maintenance and repair.

Attorney Amy Robertson assisted deaf DOC prisoners Cathy Begano, Andrew Atkins, Mark Trevithick, Leonid Rabinkov and Bianca Charmane Rogers – whose mother is deaf – in filing two consolidated civil rights lawsuits against the DOC and DOC staff, alleging the prison system’s failure to provide access to videophones violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act (RA) and the First Amendment.

When the suits were filed, the DOC provided only teletypewriter services (TTY) to deaf prisoners. That technology is 60 years old, error-prone, failure-prone and causes delays in communication. It requires the hearing-impaired person to use the English language to type a message on a TTY machine. The message is received by an operator at a distant location who then reads it to an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter at another location. ...

Hawaii Prisoners Rebel Over Prison Conditions, Fined For Damages

by Kevin Bliss

Prisoners of the Maui Community Correctional Center (MCCC) rioted March 11, 2019, over unstable, inhumane and unconstitutional living conditions. Complaints about broken telephones, uncollected mail, overcrowding, shortened visits and other problems resulted in prisoners from two modules destroying showers and toilets, setting living areas on fire, and breaking windows, sprinkler systems, and other dormitory fixtures causing a total of $5.3 million in damages.

The facility was at 137% capacity, understaffed by 22%, and had 59% of the remaining staff on some form of administrative leave.

An investigation conducted by the Department of Public Safety (DPS) found that extreme overcrowding was the cause of the riot, which started when prisoners one day found that every phone in the facility was not functioning.

During the joint Senate Ways and Means and Public Safety committees’ informational meeting at UH-Maui College, DPS Director Nolan Espinda said that if the phones had been operational, “we may not have faced the situation we did.” He also stated the cells in Module B that were designed to hold two people were holding four, and that understaffing cost the state $1.95 million in overtime for the 2018 fiscal year alone.

State Senator Glenn ...

Seventh Circuit Upholds Denial of Wisconsin Prisoner’s Request to Marry Psychologist

by Ed Lyon

John Nigl began his 100-year prison stretch in 2001 at Waupun Correctional Institution in Wisconsin. From April of 2013 until January of 2015, Nigl received psychological counseling from Dr. Sandra Johnston. Their sessions ceased when Johnston left her employment. The two shared a kiss when Johnston left.

Nigl’s brother obtained Johnston’s address, and Nigl contacted her by mail. She responded favorably so the two began exchanging letters and telephone calls. After a four-month period, they became engaged in April of 2015.

Johnston requested visitation approval to see Nigl several times. They were denied because she had not been 12 months outside her prison employment. She set up a phone account under an alias name and had phone sex with Nigl. She returned to work as a prison psychologist in July of 2015. She disclosed her friendship with Nigl in a “fraternization policy exception request,” but her supervisor never processed it. The two continued their contact anyway and requested permission to marry in 2016.

Permission was denied as it was discovered how many rules and policies the two had broken in the course of their relationship. In addition, the state licensing board suspended Johnston’s license for 12 months ...

Death Highlights Need for Change in Texas GEO-Run Prison

by Kevin Bliss

Eagle Pass Correctional Facility (EPCF) have been investigated by the Maverick County, Texas Sheriff’s Office, the Idaho Department of Corrections (IDOC), Corizon Correctional Healthcare, and the GEO Group after 56-year-old Kim Sargent Taylor died in January 2019, of “natural causes.” Taylor had been to medical a week earlier complaining of a sore throat, followed by a rising temperature of 101.3, dizziness, and congested lungs. On the night of his death, guards were called because Taylor was pale, sweating, and incoherent. A later report stated that an inexperienced nurse responded supplying subpar medical assistance, which led to his transportation to the local hospital where he was pronounced dead.

EPCF, just southwest of San Antonio, Texas, is GEO Group’s newly acquired prison used to house IDOC’s prisoners, due to overpopulation. It began as a county jail and was later converted in 2018 to meet IDOC’s requirements to house some of their less violent prisoners. Since then, it has been surrounded in controversy because of its poor living conditions. Prisoners and their families have contacted the Idaho American Civil Liberties and the Idaho Press complaining about being locked down 24 hours a day, no access to the grievance procedure, inadequate ...

States Move for True Second Chance Opportunities

by Kevin Bliss

Communities and politicians are acting in concerted effort during a brisk economy to reduce the obstacles preventing recently incarcerated citizens from once again becoming productive members of society. States are holding business summits geared at facilitating the hiring of ex-offenders, passing bills to increase employment opportunities and to help restore lost rights, and holding vocational training programs coupled with job fairs within prisons to help secure employment before release. Activists say this is a bipartisan issue that both sides are working together to resolve.

In November, Governor Kim Reynolds held a summit at Iowa Correctional Institute for Women in Mitchellville. “We have a moral responsibility to think differently,” she stated. “Prison shouldn’t be one stop in a circle that leads back to prison. It needs to connect people with opportunities to improve themselves and their skills.”

In an event the same month, North Liberty Grace Community Church manager Jean Keeley, along with 30 business leaders, played characters to demonstrate barriers ex-prisoners face in acquiring personal identification, employment, and housing.

“We’ve had many past simulation attendees that just give up and stay in jail, and we know that can happen for individuals, too,” said Michelle Heinz, executive director ...

Oklahoma Commutations Largest Mass Release in U.S. History

by Kevin Bliss

On November 1, 2019, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt approved commutation for 527 prisoners. The Oklahoma commutation is the largest mass commutation in the history of the nation. The citizens of Oklahoma voted yes on State Question 780 in 2016, which decriminalized low-level, nonviolent property crimes and certain drug possessions, and in 2019 Stitt signed a bill making that act apply retroactively.

Former Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele initiated the push to reduce the state’s prison population. It was estimated it would save the state $12 million a year.

“Historically, many in Oklahoma have seen incarceration and excessive penalties as politically expedient,” Steele said. “We are breaking away from that model as we understand that not only does it make a situation worse, but it also costs a fortune.”

Oklahoma has the highest incarceration rate of the nation. This alternative sentencing measure is just one step in Stitt’s priority to change that. The bill gave authorization to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to accelerate a one-stage commutation hearing for those prisoners who had no additional ineligible sentences, were not guilty of serious misconduct while incarcerated, or whose commutation was not opposed by prosecutor or victim.

The board ...

California: Qualified Attorney Work-Product Protection Applies to Discovery During Habeas Proceedings

by Douglas Ankney

In October 2, 2019, the California Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District ruled that the qualified attorney work-product protection doctrine applies in habeas corpus proceedings. In 1997, a jury convicted Samuel Zamudio Jimenez of two counts of murder and sentenced him to death.

Jiminez filed a habeas petition in 2010, alleging juror misconduct among other claims. Attached to his petition was a declaration from alternate juror E.P., who stated that she sat with the jurors during deliberations, that jurors asked her opinion and that she told them she agreed that Jimenez was guilty.

The California Supreme Court ordered the state to show cause in the superior court why relief should not be granted on the juror misconduct claim.

At a subsequent hearing on Jimenez’s habeas petition, the superior court agreed to the district attorney’s request that letters be sent to the remaining jurors to ask if they were willing to speak with the parties’ counsel. The parties agreed that if any juror spoke to one party, that party would provide the juror’s statement to the other party.

The district attorney also requested that Jimenez be required to disclose any statements from jurors or alternates previously ...

Court Grants Bail to Ex-Peruvian President Challenging Extradition Due to Solitary Confinement

by Dale Chappell

On October 10, 2019, U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco granted bail to former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, requiring him to be released on a $1 million bond under home confinement and electronic monitoring.

The 73-year-old Toledo had been held in solitary confinement at the Santa Rita Jail for the previous three months following his July 2019 arrest, awaiting his fate as to whether the United States will extradite him back to Peru to face bribery charges. He is accused of receiving $20 million in bribes from a Brazilian construction company.

At first, Toledo was denied bail by a magistrate judge who said he was too great of a flight risk. When his lawyers appealed that decision to the district judge, the court held a hearing and overturned the magistrate’s ruling.

Chhabria found that Toledo’s three months in solitary, where he was allowed out of his cell just one hour every two days, “initiated a marked decline in [his] mental health,” according to a psychiatrist’s report. The judge also said that not having been convicted of a crime, there were “serious due process concerns” with keeping someone locked up under such conditions.

The court ...

States Rush to End Prison Gerrymandering Before Districts Are Set For Another 10 years

by Aleks Kajstura, Legal Director, Prison Policy Initiative

In January, New Jersey became the 7th state to end prison gerrymandering – the practice of using incarcerated people to inflate the population of rural districts. That marks a milestone for criminal justice policy and democracy: over 25% of US residents now live in a state, county, or municipality that has ended prison gerrymandering.

Going into the 2020 redistricting cycle, California, Delaware, Maryland, Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, and Washington State will be adjusting their redistricting data to count incarcerated people at their home address when drawing districts.

The Census Bureau counts incarcerated people as residents of the towns where they are confined, though they continue to be constituents of their home districts – and in Maine and Vermont, where incarcerated people retain the right to vote, they are required to vote by absentee ballot back home. When that Census data is used to draw district lines it transfers power away from the home communities of incarcerated people, and gives it to legislative districts that contain prisons.

But an increasing number of states are adjusting Census data to avoid prison gerrymandering. State laws ending prison gerrymandering are a simple state-based ...

Guard Who Failed to Prevent Escape Entitled to Qualified Immunity

by David M. Reutter

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held on September 18, 2019 that a guard cannot be held liable under the Constitution for failing to prevent an escape.

In an attempt to apparently commit suicide, Tyson Salters, a pretrial detainee at the Kane County jail in Illinois, swallowed some cleaning fluid. He was taken to a hospital and ordered to remain in shackles. Guard Shawn Loomis disobeyed that order and removed the restraints when Salters requested to use the bathroom.

Once free of the shackles, Salters grabbed Loomis’ gun and escaped. As he terrorized hospital staff and visitors, Loomis hid. Three hours after being cornered, a SWAT team killed him. Two people at the hospital who claimed they were frightened but not injured sued Loomis, Kane County, the hospital and its security service.

The district court denied Loomis’ motion to dismiss on qualified immunity grounds, holding liability was created under the “state-created danger exception.” The county appealed.

The Seventh Circuit noted the plaintiffs did not allege that “Loomis intended harm to the Hospital’s staff, patients, and visitors – he appears, instead, to be a feckless coward, but the district judge thought that negligence leading to bystanders’ danger ...

Report Published on Louisiana’s Extensive Use Of Solitary Confinement

by Scott Grammer

joint report published in June 2019by Solitary Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, and the Jesuit Social Research Institute/Loyola University New Orleans discusses the use of solitary confinement by the Louisiana prison system. The report, called “Louisiana on Lockdown,” includes statistics and testimony from more than 700 people in solitary in all nine of Louisiana’s prisons.

According to the report, the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (LADOC) reported in the fall of 2017 that “19 percent of the men in its state prisons—2,709 in all—had been in solitary confinement for more than two weeks. Many had been there for years or even decades.” Another report from 2016 found over 17 percent of the state’s prisoners were in solitary. The report states, “these rates of solitary confinement use were more than double the next highest state’s, and approximately four times the national average. Given that Louisiana also has the second highest incarceration rate in the United States, which leads the world in both incarceration and solitary confinement use, it is clear that Louisiana holds the title of solitary confinement capital of the world.”

The report found that over 77% of the respondents had been ...

Seventh Circuit Upholds Prison Guard’s Rape Convictions, But County Not Liable

by Scott Grammer

Darryl L. Christensen was a Polk County, Wisconsin jail guard who over the course of three years, between 2011 and 2014, repeatedly sexually assaulted two female prisoners. When this was discovered by jail administrators, Christensen resigned. He pleaded guilty to several counts of sexual assault and will get a taste of what it’s like to be on the other side of the bars for the next thirty years.

His victims, who are referred to only by their initials in the Seventh Circuit opinion, sued both Christensen and the county for violating their rights. They won in the district court $2,000,000 in compensatory and $3,750,000 in punitive damages per plaintiff. Christensen and the county both moved for new trials and appealed. On June 26, the Seventh Circuit affirmed Christensen’s conviction but reversed the damage award against the county.

As for Christensen, the Court found “no reason to disturb the jury’s verdict against Christensen and so affirm the denial of his request for a new trial. His assaults were predatory and knowingly criminal. But to impose liability against the county for Christensen’s crimes, there must be evidence of an offending county policy, culpability, and causation. These are demanding standards. ...

Long-running Maricopa County, Arizona Jail Lawsuit Ends

by Ed Lyon

With all of the negative publicity concerning the Maricopa County, Arizona, jails associated with former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the unconstitutional conditions there began under Sheriff-elect Jerry Hill. It was during Hill’s tenure in 1977 that the lawsuit Graves v. Hill -- now Graves v. Penzone, the name of the county’s current sheriff -- began.

Initially the case involved access to attorneys through telephone availability and overcrowded conditions with three pre-trial detainees as plaintiffs. The suit expanded to include and eventually revolve around the jail’s detainees not receiving medical and mental health care that meets constitutionally required minimum standards.

A local legal aid organization, Community Legal Services, filed the original lawsuit, maintaining it until 2005. At that point, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took the helm, presumably in response to a 2001 judgment termination attempt initiated under the Arpaio administration.

In 1981, a multilateral consent decree was agreed to by the parties. In 1995, an amended judgment replaced the consent decree as jail administrators and staff continued to work at alleviating unconstitutional conditions. Therefore, the stipulated amended judgment did not include any determinations by the judge on the actual “constitutionally ...

Suicide or Murder? Jeffrey Epstein’s Death Still Drawing Attention to Bureau Inadequacies

by Anthony W. Accurso

Months after the August 2019 death of Jeffrey Epstein, rumors and theories are still circulating that cast doubt on the cause of death.

The 66-year-old billionaire became the center of the nation’s attention after he was arrested July 6, 2019, on new charges of sex trafficking of minors in New York and Florida over a decade ago. A month later, on August 10, 2019, he was found dead in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in New York City, where he was being kept in custody by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to await trial.

The MCC has long been a notorious hellhole, which critics have labeled a “gulag” and “Little Gitmo.” Hundreds of suspected “terrorists” were rounded up by the FBI in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, often on the flimsiest of evidence – i.e. being Muslim – and many were jailed without bail at the MCC. They were denied rights to make a phone call or speak with an attorney, and some were held in cells lit 24 hours a day and shackled when escorted. They were almost all released after being held for an average of three months. PLN ...

Court Confirms Pennsylvania Prisoner’s Sentence in Tobacco Contraband Case

by David M. Reutter

Tobacco is a valuable commodity in jails and prisons because it is considered contraband. Maurice Dewayne Wakefield, II, went to great lengths with a group of prisoners to get another prisoner’s stash of tobacco. The price was a 9 to 18 year sentence.

When prisoner C.S. was transferred from F Block to E Block at Pennsylvania’s Blair County Prison on March 16, 2017, he had hidden loose amounts of tobacco and cigarettes in his shoes and rectum. Throughout the day, he sold the tobacco in his shoes to other prisoners for commissary items. “He also told others he had more but that he had to get it out of his rear,” the Pennsylvania Superior Court wrote in an opinion affirming Wakefield’s judgment of sentence.

Around 8:30 p.m., prisoners Allen Granger, Curtis Ramsey, and Zachery Moore attacked prisoner F.D.F. as he came out of the shower. They thought he was holding down C.S.’s stash of tobacco. He did not have it and got away from the group.

Later that night, Wakefield, Charles Frank, Granger, and Moore formed a semicircle around C.S. after he was lured into a cell. Ramsey blocked the door. They demanded the tobacco and ...

Michigan Finding Success With More Humane Treatment of Mentally Ill Prisoners

by David M. Reutter

Michigan’s new approach to dealing with mentally ill prisoners is not only more humane, it is proving to be more effective at reducing recidivism.

When Heidi Washington took over as director of the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) in 2015, she vowed to change the way mentally ill prisoners were treated. Eliminating their placement in solitary confinement was a top priority.

Woodland Correctional Institution used to be the W.J. Maxey Boys Training School, which was a facility that housed juveniles. It was retrofitted to provide acute and long-term psychiatric treatment. It treats 200 prisoners and houses another 150 to fulfill general prison jobs. There is no wait list for Woodland’s Crisis Stabilization Unit (CSU) and prisoners referred for Woodland by other prisons are usually transported there within 24 hours.

The average stay in Woodland’s CSU is seven days. Most of the prisoners are in Rehabilitative Treatment Services, a partial hospitalization program that lasts six months or longer. Woodland has a unit for prisoners with developmental disorders and houses about 50 prisoners with late stage dementia or mental illness that prevent management in other prisons.

The new approach has seen an 84% decline in the average number ...

$150,000 Settlement for Opioid Withdrawal Death in Indiana County Jail

by Anthony W. Accurso

The Floyd County, Indiana, jail reached a settlement in July in the death of a prisoner related to opioid withdrawal.

Hanna Robb, 23, was booked into the Floyd County Jail on March 25, 2016, for failure to appear for a misdemeanor theft charge. At her court date on March 30, she was sentenced to serve nine days and be released on April 9. Hanna died later that night after returning from court.

Mark Robb, Hanna’s father and the administrator of her estate, filed a civil suit in January 2017 against the Floyd County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Frank Loop, and eight other jail staff, including the jail’s medical officer and two nurses.

The complaint outlined a story all too familiar to criminal justice reform advocates familiar with the slow-moving train wreck that is the interaction between the opioid epidemic and this country’s patchwork system of largely unregulated county jails.

Floyd County was, at least on paper, capable of handling prisoners like Hanna who are detoxing from opioids. It had protocols in place for medical observation and prescription medicines to treat acute symptoms, such as seizures, once the staff is notified of a prisoner’s drug dependency. Hanna’s situation ...

Cook County Jail’s Three Book Possession Policy Constitutional

by David M. Reutter

An Illinois federal district court granted summary judgment to Cook County in a civil rights action alleging a jail policy that limits its pretrial detainees to possession of three books violates the First Amendment.

The case has a “somewhat convoluted procedural history,” having been to the Seventh Circuit on appeal and was currently before the court after rehearing on Gregory Koger’s claim that a “constitutional violation occurred upon removal of the books from his cell and existed whether the books were destroyed, put in the jail library, or maintained and returned to him upon release.” See: Lyons v. Dart, 901 F.3d 828 (7th Cir. 2018).

The court began its analysis by citing precedent that holds that “Freedom of Speech is not merely freedom to speak; it is also freedom to read.”

It was clear that at some point guards confiscated more than 30 books from Koger without allowing him to choose which three books he wanted to keep, and he never saw those books again. This confiscation occurred as guards enforced jail policy that limited detainees to a total of three books or magazines, excluding religious material.

Jail officials asserted three rationales to support ...

Federal Prisoner to Receive Opioid Addiction Medication While Incarcerated

by Kevin Bliss

The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) came to an agreement September 11, 2019, with Leaman Crews to provide him buprenorphine for opioid use disorder (OUD) during his 36-month prison sentence.

Represented by Lauren Bonds of the Kansas Foundation of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Anthony Rothert of the Missouri Foundation of the ACLU, Crews filed a motion for emergency injunctive relief, alleging that buprenorphine was prescribed to him for his 10-year-long addiction. He had been using the medication for 15 months and to discontinue it could lead to painful withdrawals and possibly death.

Crews was first prescribed an opioid-based medication after he was involved in a serious car accident. He became addicted and began using money from his job to buy opioids. He sought treatment, and his doctor placed him on buprenorphine to combat his addiction.

The BOP’s policy is to automatically deny buprenorphine to all prisoners with OUD for pain maintenance therapy. After Crews pleaded to a 15-month sentence, his attorney contacted the BOP requesting assurances that Crews would continue his physician-prescribed medication.

Counsel for the BOP would not confirm that the Bureau would deviate from its blanket refusal. Crews’ attorneys then filed a ...

“Free” E-Tablets Are Anything But

by Ed Lyon

A lengthy article concerning e-tablets in state prisons was published in the April 2018 issue of PLN (p.44). One of the warnings set out in that article concerned the high fees accompanying apps for those devices. JPay stands out as a major provider of e-tablets, a variant of Apple’s iPad, bestowing those devices free to entire prison populations in New York state. Global Tel Link (GTL) started doing the same in West Virginia last Novmber.

However, there is no such thing as a free lunch, as the old saying goes and it appears based on subsequent developments that there is no such thing as a free e-tablet either. JPay charges prisoners for books, educational materials, email, games, music, video visits, and other items. About the only free use a prisoner has for an e-tablet is using it as a flat surface to support the paper they use to write letters on.

The pay scale for New York prisoners ranges from .10¢ to $1.14 per hour. West Virginia prisoners earn between .04¢ and .58¢ per hour for working.

Arkansas and Texas are two of the four states that pay their prisoners nothing for the work they are required ...

$12.6 Million Jury Award for Man Denied Medical Care Before Jailed

by David M. Reutter

A California federal jury awarded $12,617,674 to a man who suffered brain damage after San Diego County sheriff’s deputies pulled him away from an examining paramedic and hauled him off to jail.

David Collins called 911 on November 18, 2016, while hallucinating in his home. Deputies Matthew Chavez, David Sanchez, and Steven Block responded to the call. After assessing the scene and Collins, they left. Shortly afterward, Collins went outside his home and fell inside a soft planter close to his residence. Neighbors called 911.

A paramedic responding with the fire department was examining Collins when Sanchez, Chavez, and Block arrived at the scene. The deputies concluded that Collins was intoxicated and pulled him away from the paramedic, who had not completed his evaluation.

Collins’ civil rights complaint alleged that the paramedic found Collins was not intoxicated and that he had no injuries to his face when taken into custody.

Upon arrival at the Vista Contention Center, Collins “had a noticeable abrasion on the right side of his forehead, along with other scratches and bruising on his face. Nurse Jonathan Symmonds conducted the initial medial review and found no medical issues. He authorized placement into a ...

Riots At South Carolina Prison Spark Wave of Lawsuits

by David M. Reutter

The April 15, 2018, riot at South Carolina’s Lee Correctional Institution (LCI) illustrates the consequences of prison understaffing. That riot was the worst in America’s prisons in 25 years. The toll was seven dead and 22 injured. The aftermath is at least 18 lawsuits.

LCI, like many prisons in America, was understaffed when hundreds of competing gang members were transferred to the prison before the riot, “exacerbating an already dangerous environment,” the lawsuits allege. Insufficient staff is caused by meager pay in a volatile environment, which causes guards to move on to better employment prospects.

Low pay scales result in guards trafficking in contraband, which creates turf wars and extortion inside prisons. As violence increases, prisoners arm themselves for self-protection. Add a lack of medical and mental health care, and the prison becomes a powder keg.

“It’s a recipe for bad things to happen,” said attorney Carter Elliott, who has filed 10 of the 18 lawsuits related to the riot. “If these things keep happening and people keep dying, they are going to get sued.”

South Carolina has seen an increase in prion-related lawsuits in recent years. Between 2013 and May 2019, its insurer paid out ...

Alabama Jail Guards Face Liability for Inaction to Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms

by David M. Reutter

In an unpublished opinion, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of qualified immunity to guards in a civil rights action alleging they were deliberately indifferent to a pretrial detainees health issues stemming from methadone withdrawal.

The lawsuit was filed by Whitney Foster, who was booked into Alabama’s Madison County Jail (MCJ) on April 4, 2014. The guards and medical staff at MCJ were aware Foster had been taking 80 milligrams of methadone per day at a methadone clinic.

Within a week of her incarceration, Foster began showing visible signs of methadone withdrawal, as well as elevated blood pressure. Nursing staff with MCJ’s medical vendor, Advanced Correctional Healthcare (ACH), “did nothing to help her.” Instead, guards and nurses accused Foster of “faking” as she slurred her speech, bit her tongue, and exhibited limited control of her body.

By April 21, her condition became “desperate,” and she continued to deteriorate until sent to a hospital on April 23. The complaint alleged that the nine defendant guards and nurses “harassed and ridiculed” her “rather than provide her comfort or adequate medical care.”

On April 22, Foster was found on the floor under her bunk, and a ...

Florida Prison Isolation Suit Survives Dismissal Stage

by David M. Reutter

A Florida federal district court denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that the Florida Department of Corrections’ (FDOC) policies and practices related to isolation are unconstitutional.

As PLN reported, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed this suit on behalf of five prisoners, and it intends to seek class-action status. The complaint alleged Florida has a statewide policy of isolation of over 10,000 prisoners for at least 22 hours per day in a cell no bigger than a parking space.

The conditions of that confinement are alleged to cause “a substantial risk of serious harm to (prisoners’) mental and physical health.” It also alleged FDOC discriminates against people with disabilities via these same policies. [See PLN, March 2018, p. 44.]

FDOC moved for dismissal. Among other issues, it argued the complaint was a “shotgun pleading.” The court’s order denying that motion shows that FDOC broke out the shotgun in its effort to dismiss the action. The court found the complaint provides it and FDOC “with a sufficient roadmap” to state the claims and it is not a pleading that runs afoul of rules of procedure.”

The court also rejected FDOC’s position that allegations that ...

Fulton County Ordered to Clean Up Repulsive Jail Conditions for Mentally Ill Women

by David M. Reutter

A Georgia federal district court ordered the Fulton County Sheriff to give more out of cell time and to provide sanitary confinement conditions for women at the South Fulton Municipal Regional Jail.

The court’s order came in a lawsuit brought by the Georgia Advocacy Office, a nonprofit serving Georgians with disabilities, and the Southern Center for Human Rights. The 88-page complaint, which sought a preliminary injunction, was filed on April 10, 2019.

According to the complaint, over 200 women are held at the jail, and it is estimated that 60 percent to 80 percent of them experience psychiatric disabilities. The jail responded by confining them “in isolation cells for months on end.” Most of the women were jailed for minor offenses, but they remained in solitary confinement because the jail was understaffed and guards were not trained to deal with them.

The complaint contained 29 pictures that illustrated the deplorable conditions of confinement the women endured. It alleged that during tours women were “found lying on the floor and with feces or food smeared on their bodies and cells.” Trash was found strewn across cells, urine was pooled on the floor, toilets were broken and overflowing, ...

Senator Warren Has Plan To Ban Private Prison Contracts

by Scott Grammer

Massachusetts Democratic Senator and current presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren introduced a plan last June that would essentially ban all government entities, at any level, from contracting with private prison companies.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, another presidential candidate, also favors banning private prisons. If elected president, Sanders is considering issuing numerous executive actions to circumvent Congress, including one that would abolish private prisons, The Washington Post reported in January.

Warren’s bill has no chance of passing the current Congress. Still, Warren’s idea did not go over well with private prison companies. Politico reports that CoreCivic’s spokesperson Amanda Gilchrist said, “Our company helps keep communities safe, enrolls thousands of inmates in reentry programs that prepare them for life after prison and saves taxpayers millions. It’s unfortunate that politicians advocate against these benefits without themselves providing any solutions to the serious challenges our corrections and detention systems face.”

In January 2020 Warren took her stance farther in a letter to officials at the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) as well as those at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to express her concern over a series of moves into the private prison industry by high-level BOP and ICE employees during ...

Veteran Dies After Beating by Guards at North Carolina Jail

by David M. Reutter

Guards at North Carolina’s Wayne County Detention Center (WCDC) abused and beat to death a mentally ill veteran who was arrested for breaking the window out his neighbor’s truck in May 2017, a civil rights complaint alleged.

Graydon “Jerry” Parker, III, 54, served two years in the Army with the 182nd Airborne division. On the morning of May 20, 2017, he was arrested for breaking the truck window, telling the deputy he did it “because God told me to.”

During transport to WCDC, a deputy heard Parker singing and mumbling while observing he had a “thousand-yard stare.” He was charged with injury to personal property and resisting an officer, both misdemeanors.

The civil rights complaint filed last May alleged it was obvious, even to lay persons, that Parker was in the throes of an “acute manic state and experiencing a psychiatric emergency.” Yet he was not rendered treatment or even screening for mental-health issues upon booking. Guards, instead, “misperceived him as a disruptive inmate or an intoxicated inmate beyond reasonable comprehension levels.” That led them to pepper spray him several times in the face and drag him to the shower area.

Once there, Parker was sprayed ...

Report Decries Ongoing Inadequate Medical Care for Pregnant Arizona Prisoners

by Matt Clarke

ACLU and Prison Law Office attorneys representing Arizona state prisoners toured the Perryville prison for three days in April 2019, interviewing 25 women who had recently given birth or suffered miscarriages in prison. The report they gave the court describes “shocking and horrifying” stories of a “deficient” and “dangerous” lack of prenatal and postnatal care with some women needlessly miscarrying and others giving birth alone in their cells.

“They are being horribly mistreated by the health care staff and the custody staff,” said Prison Law Office attorney Corene Kendrick. “They’re not being provided adequate nutrition. They’re not being given adequate hygiene supplies. The postpartum depression mental health care is minimal, if existent at all.”

The state Department of Corrections (DOC) is under a federal court order to improve health and mental health care to its 33,000 prisoners, pursuant to a 2015 class-action settlement reached with the ACLU and Prison Law Office on behalf of prisoners they represented in Parsons v. Ryan.

The attorneys’ visit followed similar tours beginning in December 2018, which have also taken them to state prisons in Florence, Tucson, Phoenix and Eyman. The attorneys put their findings into letters delivered in May 2019 by ...

$300,000 Settlement in Lincoln County Missouri Jail Attempted Suicide Suit

by Chad Marks

Mark A. Jaconski was arrested on June 17, 2015, for outstanding traffic warrants and taken to Mercy Hospital for a “fit for confinement” determination. Hospital officials made that determination and Jaconski was transported to the Lincoln County Jail in Missouri.

No mental health screening was done of Jaconski upon his admittance to the jail. Jaconski’s mother made numerous attempts by telephone to inform jail staff that her son had a mental health history that included prior suicide attempts and his need for prescribed medication. None of Monica Brown’s messages were returned. Jaconski himself requested to see nurse Tanya Drummond numerous times, all to no avail.

After two days at the Lincoln County Jail, Jaconski was brought before a municipal court judge on June 14, 2015. That judge ordered his release on his own recognizance.

Once returned to the jail, Jaconski was returned to the general population with no notification from jail guards as to when and if he was going to be released. During the noontime meal, Jaconski reported to Sergeant Noland that he was hearing voices and wanted a cell by himself. He told Nolan that he was bi-polar and schizophrenic, had not been taking his ...

$550,000 Settlement in Nationwide Class-Action Lawsuit Over High-Fee Debit Cards

by Matt Clarke

In September 20, 2019, an Ohio federal court granted preliminary approval of a settlement in a class action lawsuit against Stored Value Cards, Inc., doing business as Numi Financial, and Republic Bank & Trust over jails using their high-fee debit cards to return prisoners’ funds upon release from jail.

The settlement is for up to $550,000, including up to $250,000 in attorney fees and costs, and up to $15,000 as an incentive award to the named plaintiff. There are an estimated 180,000 class members.

Class attorneys Matthew A. Dooley, Ryan M. Gembala, and Stephen M. Bosak of Sheffield Village, Ohio, assisted former Lorrain County jail prisoner Amber Humphrey in filing a class-action lawsuit against the defendants over prisoners released from jails being given activated “Numi Financial” debit cards containing the funds from their prisoner trust funds without their having agreed to the terms of the cards, or having been given information on account terms, fees, and charges, and without having signed any agreement or contract.

The complaint alleged the defendants charged excessively high ATM fees, account maintenance charges, and transaction fees. For instance, the defendants could charge a $2.50 weekly service fee, a $0.95 fee for each ...

$250,000 Settlement in Assault Upon Luzerne County Detainee

by David M. Reutter

A former Pennsylvania pretrial detainee who sustained serious injuries from a guard’s use of excessive force received a $250,000 settlement.

As guard Christopher Refner was making rounds at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility on June 28, 2016, he smelled marijuana and began to investigate. He determined its source came from the cell occupied by pretrial detainee Edward Hernandez and his cellmate.

To corroborate his suspicions, he decided to have them and another detainee undergo urinalysis drug testing, which was done in another part of the jail.

As Refner was escorting them to that location, Hernandez and Refner “engaged in back-and-forth banter” about Hernandez’s use of marijuana. As the exchanges continued and became more heated, Refner decided it was necessary to handcuff Hernandez, and he ordered him to put his hands on the wall.

According to the civil rights complaint, Hernandez was successfully handcuffed.

Refner then pulled Hernandez’s “arms up towards the middle of the back,” causing him “extreme pain as a result of a prior shoulder injury.” After Hernandez complained about this treatment, Refner “unleashed a violent assault” upon Hernandez.

Refner allegedly wrapped his arms around Hernandez, proceeded to lift him in the air, and slammed ...

Most States Saw Criminal Justice Reforms in 2019, But Incarceration Rates Remain High

by Victoria Law, reprinted from Truthout

On December 20, 2019, criminal justice advocates celebrated the news that President Trump signed the Fair Chance Act into law. Tucked into a massive defense spending bill, the law is a federal version of “ban the box,” prohibiting the government and its contractors from asking job applicants about their criminal history before extending a conditional offer of employment. Thirty-five states and over 150 cities already have versions of “ban the box” laws.

That’s not the only criminal justice success this year. 2019 has seen an outpouring of local and state efforts to stem the tide of mass incarceration, from bail reform and mass bailouts, to efforts to close jails and legislation to divert people from lengthy prison sentences. Criminal justice reform has even become a talking point for candidates seeking the presidential nomination in 2020.

But what can we expect in 2020? Will reform efforts lead to a substantial decrease in mass incarceration and criminalization across the nation? Or will mass incarceration and criminalization shift to regions with less organizing and fewer resources?

Prison populations are dropping, but only minutely: From 2016 to 2017 (the latest year for which numbers are available), state ...

Santa Rita Sheriff’s Office Says Prisoners Not Being Maltreated; Prisoners’ Protest Says Otherwise

by Kevin Bliss

Detainees and prisoners at the Santa Rita Jail (SRJ) in Dublin, California, participated in a peaceful protest over the unsanitary and unconstitutional conditions in the jail. Beginning October 30, 2019, between 300 and 400 prisoners engaged in a six-day hunger strike and work stoppage. They supplied a list of 26 demands to be met to end their protest.

Prisoners at SRJ said the facility’s living quarters are unhealthy and cleaning supplies are only issued once a week. They said medical and mental health care needs are being neglected. Moreover, the facility does not have a law library for federal detainees, preventing them from preparing for their defense.

A spokesperson for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, Sgt. Ray Kelly, said the jail spends $75,000 per prisoner each year to provide adequate food, clothing, and medical care. They have access to their families, legal advice, and religious leaders. “[Prisoners] are not being maltreated,” he said. “The conditions are better than some of the conditions that they have in our community. Let’s talk about the inhumanity of people living on the streets in our communities. There would be no way our facility would be allowed to function or run if ...

Sacramento County Jail Settles Solitary Confinement Class Action Suit

by Scott Grammer

Sacramento County has two jails, which together house about 3,800 people at any one time. A July 2018 complaint filed in federal court by Lorenzo Mays, Ricky Richardson, Jennifer Bothun, Armani Lee, Leertese Beirge, Cody Garland, and the Prison Law Office and Disability Rights California, claims that the county “regularly subjects people in its custody—the majority of whom have not been convicted of any crime—to harsh, prolonged, and undue isolation.”

“Every day, Defendant locks up hundreds of people in solitary confinement in dark, cramped, filthy cells for 23 ½ hours or more per day,” says the complaint. “Defendant subjects people with serious mental illness to extreme isolation, with little or no mental health treatment. More than one-third of Sacramento County’s jail population has a mental illness, including dozens of people waiting for psychiatric inpatient placements in state hospitals. Yet Defendant fails to provide adequate mental health care, including basic measures to prevent suicide and self-harm.”

On September 14, 2019, the parties reached a preliminary agreement on a consent decree to bring the jail up to Constitutional standards. The court approved $2,100,000 in attorney fees for the plaintiffs as the prevailing parties and approved an annual cap of $250,000 ...

Court Holds Federal Tort Claim Against BOP Can Proceed in MCC Beating Death

by Kevin Bliss

The United States Southern DistrictCourt of New York ruled that Nicole Morrison could proceed with her claim against the U.S. for its negligence in the death of Roberto Grant while in custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), the same prison where Jeffrey Epstein died. “Roberto Grant was beaten to death in an MCC dormitory,” the court ruled.

Grant pleaded guilty to a series of jewelry store heists in August of 2014. Thereafter he told his ex-wife, Morrison, that he was being harassed and physically threatened by guards at MCC. (The suit implied the guards were Lee Plourde and Michael Kearins). Grant was found dead in the dormitory on May 19, 2015. Morrison and Grant’s mother, Crecita Williams, were told he died from a K-2 overdose.

The autopsy report stated that Grant had no narcotics or alcohol in his system but did have a series of lacerations and contusions on his upper body “suggesting blunt force trauma.” Morrison, through attorney Andrew Laufer, filed a $20 million suit alleging Bivens and Federal Tort Claim Act (FTCA) violations against the U.S., the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), and Plourde and Kearins.

The Court held that Bivens claims are limited to ...

18-Month Prison Sentence for Former Alabama Sheriff in Food Bank Scam

by David M. Reutter

The former sheriff of Alabama’s Pickens County was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for a scam to defraud a food bank and his church, and pocketing leftover funds to feed detainees.

David Abston was sheriff for 32 years. As allowed by Alabama law, he was allotted a budget each year to feed the persons housed in his jai, and any monies leftover at year’s end was his to keep. The scam that put him in prison aimed to lower the cost of feeding prisoners and fatten his pockets.

Abston submitted an application with the West Alabama Food Bank (WAFB) to become a partner, and he convinced his church to create a bank account for a food pantry and to partner with WAFB. The application claimed the “general program” of the church pantry was to help feed “children from disadvantaged and poor neighborhoods.”

WAFB’s charges a nominal fee for the cost of food maintenance and storage and requires its partners to certify the food they receive serves only the ill, needy, or infants. Abston, however, used the partnership to reduce the costs of feeding the poor souls who landed in his jail.

The scam began ...

Get Celebrity Endorsement and Get Pardoned

by Douglas Ankney

President Trump purchased an ad during the February 2 Super Bowl directed at African American voters that depicted black grandmother Alice Johnson in tears, saying, “I’m free to hug my family. I’m free to start over. This is the greatest day of my life ... I want to thank President Donald John Trump. Hallelujah!”

The 63-year-old Johnson had served almost 20 years of a life sentence for nonviolent drug-related crimes. Trump pardoned Johnson upon the recommendation of celebrity Kim Kardashian West. But what of the tens of thousands of other prisoners in situations similar to Johnson who don’t have a celebrity endorsement?

Nichole Forde, speaking about her own petition, said, “I almost wish it would get denied. At least I would know that someone had looked at it.” Serving a 27-year sentence for nonviolent drug crimes, Forde handwrote and then submitted her petition from prison in 2016. Prisoners cannot submit another petition until the previous one is decided.

As of January 2020, about 7,600 petitions for presidential pardons had been filed since Trump took office. Around 78 percent (5,900) of those petitions were closed by the pardon office because the prisoner had been released, died, or was ...

$850,000 Settlement in Florida DOC Prisoner’s Gassing Murder

by David M. Reutter

The Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) agreed to pay $850,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging guards murdered a prisoner at Franklin Correctional Institution (FCI).

The suit stemmed from the September 19, 2010, death of Randall Jordan-Aparo. His death was initially covered up by guards, but Aubrey Land, an Investigator with FDOC’s Inspector General’s Office, uncovered it while investigating another matter. [See PLN. February 2016, p. 1.]

Aparo was sentenced to serve 599 days for multiple counts of credit card fraud and was classified by FDOC as a minimum security prisoner. He was known to suffer Osler-Weber-Rendu disease, a hereditary congenital blood disorder.

After his arrival into FDOC, gang members at Jefferson Correctional Institution tried to recruit Aparo to help guards smuggle contraband, including cell phones, into the prison. Aparo and another prisoner provided information that resulted in the arrests of several guards, and FDOC created a report accessible to all its employees that detailed Aparo as an informant. That action resulted in a transfer to FCI.

On July 21, 2010, Aparo declared a medical emergency, stating blood was coming from his mouth and penis. A nurse “reviewed the entire medical record” and concluded he was faking ...

$10 Million Post-Appeal Settlement in Oklahoma Jail Prisoner Death Suit

by Matt Clarke

After having most of its defenses rebuked by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, Tulsa County, Oklahoma, opted to settle for $10 million a lawsuit brought by the estate of a jail prisoner who died after police and jail personnel ignored obvious signs of suicidal intent and physical injury.

Elliot Earl Williams, 37, was arrested by Owasso Police Department officers in a local hotel lobby, where he had been creating a disturbance. According to the police report, it “was readily apparent” that he “was having a mental breakdown.” He was “rambling on about God, eating dirt.” He also threw himself on the ground, exposed his chest, told police he was going to kill himself that night and asked them to “shoot me twice.” He later asked, “What am I going to have to do to get you to shoot me?”

Police took Williams to their headquarters for “mandatory booking.” He continued to exhibit “strange and manic behavior consistent with acute and severe psychosis.” He responded “yes” when asked if he was suicidal and his Arrest and Booking Report was given a “warning indicator” that he was “suicidal.” He was placed in a holding cell but not on ...

PLN Awarded Injunction in Arizona Prison Censorship Suit

by David M. Reutter

In November, 2019, PLN was awarded injunctive relief in a lawsuit challenging the Arizona Department of Corrections’ (ADC) “policy prohibiting sexually explicit material” as a violation of the First Amendment.

As we previously reported, ADC censored the October 2104, April 2017, May 2017 and June 2017 issues of PLN. [See PLN, November 2019, p. 50.] The complaint argued that ADC’s policy did not “contain an exception permitting delivery of publications that describe sexual acts in a non-salacious way as part of an article reporting facts of a court case or published legal decision. As a result, ADC blocked issues of PLN from being given to prisoners throughout its prison system.

Arizona federal district judge Roslyn O. Silver on March 8, 2019 granted and denied in part both parties’ motion for summary judgment. She found ADC’s policy prohibiting sexually explicit material violated the First Amendment and ordered the parties to submit proposed injunctive relief, but they could not reach an agreement.

After considering the respective submissions, the court on November 11, 2019, entered injunctive relief that required ADC to revise its policy “to establish bright-line rules that narrowly define prohibited conduct in a manner consistent ...

Public Relations Firm Terminates Contract With GEO Group

by Scott Grammer

GEO Group, a private prison company, had hired Edelman, the world’s largest public relations firm, to improve its public image. But Edelman found itself with a PR problem of its own because of its ties to GEO. The company has contracts from the Trump administration to run immigrant detention centers where children were being forcibly separated from their parents and where members of Congress were not being allowed to visit.

Just two months after landing the deal, Edelman decided to end the contract with GEO Group on July 12, 2019, mainly because its own employees objected to it. Edelman feared that news of the contract would be leaked. Fishbowl, an Internet-based networking application for professionals, was used by Edelman employees to discuss the contract with GEO Group. According to the New York Times, one employee using Fishbowl wrote, “I am beyond disturbed.” Another said, “This is an inherently political, moral and values-based issue.”

Edelman is not the first or only firm to drop ties with GEO Group and its main competitor, CoreCivic, for fear of soiling its own image. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, BMP Paribas and Wells Fargo have stepped back from private prison ...

News in Brief

Alaska: Alaska Department of Corrections Commissioner Nancy Dahlstrom told legislators in October 2019 that Alaska would move forward with plans to ship prisoners to prisons in the Lower 48, after reinstating tougher criminal sentences caused a sharp spike in Alaska’s prison population. The Legislature had approved more than $16 million to re-open the Palmer Correctional Facility, which closed in 2016. Nancy Dahlstrom said the re-opening was not feasible and would take too long. Representative Tammie Wilson opposed sending Alaskans “outside,” saying many “came back as gang members.” The feds reported in 2019 that the 1488s, “a violent and ‘whites only’ prison-based gang” gained a foothold through Alaska’s out-of-state prisoner program. In a January 24, 2020 reversal, the DOC announced plans to reopen Palmer Correctional Center and Dahlstrom announced a pilot re-entry program to begin in 90 days, saying, “I can’t speak to the specifics right now, because some things are still getting worked out, but it will be a pilot that I believe will be successful.”

Arizona: Two jailers, Javier Chavez and Alfredo Reyes, at ASPC Tucson – Cimarron Unit were arrested on July 25, 2019 when they showed up to work, prompting their resignations. They were booked into ...