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Prison Legal News: April, 2020

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Volume 31, Number 4

In this issue:

  1. Protect Yourself and Your Facility from COVID-19 (p 1)
  2. $41,850 Settlement in Heart Attack Death at California Jail (p 6)
  3. From the Editor (p 8)
  4. $33,000 Settlement For Pro Se Arizona Prisoner Assaulted by Guard (p 9)
  5. New York City Paid McKinsey & Company Millions for Failed Program to Reduce Jail Violence (p 10)
  6. Illinois Prison Guilty of Censoring Free Speech Over Facebook Posts (p 11)
  7. Massachusetts Supreme Court Orders DOC to Free Terminally Ill Prisoners After DOJ Investigates Mistreatment (p 12)
  8. NY State Prisons Finally Stop Using Faulty Drug Testing Equipment; Class Action Lawsuit Filed by Victims (p 12)
  9. All 50 States Report Prison Understaffing (p 14)
  10. Tenth Circuit Holds BOP’s Change in Policy and Delivery of Censored Issues at ADX Super Max Prison Moots PLN’s Lawsuit (p 16)
  11. Continuing Problems at Texas Jail Roil County’s Relationship with GEO Group (p 16)
  12. Former Captain at Louisiana Private Prison Sentenced for Conspiracy to Violate Ban on Cruel and Unusual Punishment (p 18)
  13. More States Restore Felony Voting Rights (p 18)
  14. Fund to Pay Wrongfully Convicted Prisoners in Michigan Is Broke Once Again (p 20)
  15. Prison Plays Go on the Road, Teach Prisoners Life Skills (p 21)
  16. Former Prisoners Find Career Success and Help Others to Achieve the Same (p 22)
  17. Audit: Privatizing Florida’s Prison Health Care Was Costly and Deadly Mistake (p 22)
  18. California Prison Officials Put Hold on Policy That Led to “Gladiator Fights” (p 24)
  19. $1 Million Paid by Snohomish County Jail to Settle Detainee’s Opioid Withdrawal Death Lawsuit (p 25)
  20. Massachusetts Prison Retaliates Against Prisoners for Assault on Guards; Court Grants Preliminary Injunction in Class Action (p 26)
  21. Kim Kardashian West Declares War on Mass Incarceration (p 27)
  22. Florida Lowers Minimum Age for Prison Guards But Fails to End Staff Shortages (p 28)
  23. $1 Million Settlement in Atlanta Detainee’s Death From Untreated Diabetes (p 28)
  24. Artificial Intelligence for Surveillance Spreading to Prisons Around the Globe (p 30)
  25. Suicide Rate of BOP Guards Keeps Increasing, Sets New Record (p 30)
  26. What’s It Like Inside? Early Snapshots from Prisons During the Coronavirus Pandemic (p 32)
  27. Prisons and Jails Are Vulnerable to COVID-19 Outbreaks (p 34)
  28. Prosecutors Sue Firm for Selling Bureau of Prisons Adulterated Food, Spices (p 34)
  29. 1.25 Million Corizon Settlement in Mentally Ill Michigan Prisoner’s Dehydration Death (p 36)
  30. Another Settlement in Sexual Assault Case at Pennsylvania Lackawanna County Prison (p 36)
  31. As Coronavirus Spreads, New York Governor Exploits Prison Labor to Produce Hand Sanitizer (p 38)
  32. Ninth Circuit Reverses Suit Over Fees Charged Prepaid Debit Cards Given To Released Prisoners (p 38)
  33. Funding and Leadership Failures Result in Less Criminal Justice Data (p 39)
  34. Virginia Governor Suspends Policy After Eight-Year-Old Strip Searched During Prison Visit (p 40)
  35. The Ongoing Push to End Outrageous Prison Phone Charges (p 40)
  36. Former Prisoners Succeeding in Hospitality Industry (p 42)
  37. Washington State Pays $500,000 to Family of Man Who Died by Suicide (p 42)
  38. California’s New “Progressive” Governor Seeks to Halt Parole for Some Murderers and “Serious” Offenders (p 44)
  39. Major Outbreak of Legionnaires’ at Coleman Women’s Work Camp (p 46)
  40. California Exonerees Not Quite Innocent Under the Law (p 46)
  41. Sixth Circuit Holds Ohio Rule Requiring Merit Affidavit Inapplicable in BOP Prisoner’s Tort Action (p 47)
  42. Illinois Prisoner Locked Up Decades Without a Conviction or Sentence (p 48)
  43. They Went to Jail. Then They Say They Were Strapped to a Chair for Days. (p 50)
  44. Muslim Georgia Prisoner Wins RLUIPA Reversal in 11th Circuit Over Vegetarian Meals (p 52)
  45. $110,000 Settlement for Outed Wisconsin Prisoner Informant (p 52)
  46. $70,000 Settlement For Oregon DOC Prisoner Dying from Flu (p 53)
  47. Opioid Epidemic Keeps Climbing at California Prisons, and Claiming Lives of Released Prisoners as Well (p 54)
  48. $1.5 Million Settlement in Georgia Youth’s Rape at Juvenile Detention Center (p 54)
  49. $1.25 Million Jury Award to Rikers Prisoner Over Jail Beating (p 56)
  50. Are Prison Law Libraries Adequate? (p 56)
  51. PrimeCare Medical Pays Bulk of $252,000 Settlement in Pennsylvania Jail Detainee’s Suicide (p 57)
  52. Arizona Prison Water Woes Ease Up (p 58)
  53. Seventh Circuit Appeals Court Upholds Ruling Against Wisconsin Prisoner’s Medical Negligence Claim (p 58)
  54. Precedential Settlement Eliminates Solitary Confinement on Pennsylvania’s Death Row (p 59)
  55. GEO Group, Largest Private Prison Contractor, Cranks Up Political Contributions During Trump Years (p 60)
  56. Pennsylvania Board Revokes Psychologist’s License Over Prisoner Suicides (p 60)
  57. $596,475 in Fees and Damages Awarded Against NY DOCCS For Contempt in Denying Pain Medication to Blind Prisoner (p 61)
  58. News in Brief (p 62)
  59. $425,000 Settlement in Arkansas Detainee’s Death from Asthma Attack (p 62)

Protect Yourself and Your Facility from COVID-19

by Michael D. Cohen, M.D.


The novel coronavirus is now a global pandemic and is widespread in the United States, causing a disease called COVID-19. It is likely that a majority of the population will eventually become infected with this virus. Here is some information about the coronavirus and some thoughts about taking care of yourself and your facility during this pandemic. Recommendations are changing daily as the virus spreads more widely. Try to get newer information from trusted sources such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) or your state Department of Health. Don’t trust rumors. False information is widely circulating already.

Residential institutions with congregate living like boarding schools, mental hospitals, homeless shelters and prisons or jails bring together a large number of people into a very small space for prolonged periods of time. Communicable diseases are readily introduced from outside and spread more easily where people live in close quarters.

Coronavirus is coming to all of us in the free world. Prisons and jails will likely be hard hit, with rapid spread inside when the disease becomes widespread in the local community or home communities. Prisoner representative councils should try to ...

$41,850 Settlement in Heart Attack Death at California Jail

The surviving family of Kevin Lee McLaughlin, who died of a heart attack in California’s San Luis Obispo County Jail (SLOCJ) in April 2017, attempted to withdraw from a $41,850 settlement negotiated in its wrongful death lawsuit, which claimed deliberate indifference to McLaughlin’s emergency medical needs resulting in his death. But a judge has prevented them from seeking a larger amount.

McLaughlin was arrested on January 23, 2017, for felony assault with a deadly weapon after he pushed a chair at his elderly mother. With a history of arrests at SLOCJ, the 60-year-old was listed as a high-risk detainee due to his high blood pressure, advanced heart disease, history of alcohol abuse, and reliance on psychotropic medication for anxiety and depression.

On January 26, 2017, SLOCJ Dr. Kristopher Howalt prescribed McLaughlin a 1,200 mg daily dose of Ibuprofen, increasing that to 1,600 mg daily on February 14, 2017. At the time of his death nearly two months later, McLaughlin was still on Ibuprofen despite a 2005 warning from the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that the drug elevates heart attack risk and a 2015 FDA warning that it should be avoided altogether by people with high ...

From the Editor

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. This is one of the very few times in our 30 year history where we have changed a cover story midproduction after the magazine has already been laid out, but that is what we are doing now. Our original cover story this month was going to be on prison contraband. As the month has gone on, the news about COVID-19 has gotten steadily more dire. For long time readers of PLN, my editorial style has generally to wait and see what is actually happening because most of the time the initial media reports are wrong or exaggerated. When it comes to prison epidemics though we don’t have much in the way of actual hard news right now, but I fear that is coming along shortly and it isn’t going to be good.

As this issue of PLN is going to press the media is awash in news about the coronavirus as it sweeps the globe. The biggest constant seems to be that, globally, prisons and jails will be hard hit by whatever eventually transpires. Iran has freed 85,000 prisoners as a result of the virus while prisoners in Italy have ...

$33,000 Settlement For Pro Se Arizona Prisoner Assaulted by Guard

In October 2019, Arizona settled for $33,000 a pro se federal lawsuit brought by a state prisoner who alleged he was assaulted by an Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC) guard while handcuffed behind his back.

According to court documents, DOC prisoner Shawn Michael Folta was incarcerated at the ASPC-Eyman Complex/SMU 1 Unit when guard Dustin Burke delivered a food tray to his cell that was missing its broccoli portion. Folta requested another tray, Burke refused and a heated verbal altercation ensued in which Burke allegedly threatened to “fuck him up.”

Folta asked to see a sergeant and Burke later returned to his cell, allegedly to escort him to the sergeant. After handcuffing Folta behind his back, Burke led him to a blind spot not covered by surveillance cameras where he allegedly attacked Folta from behind, kneed him in the face when Folta was on his knees while asking, “Who’s the punk now?” He slammed Folta’s head into a steel dinner cart, and punched him while he was on the ground.

Burke wrote Folta a disciplinary report for assaulting him. Folta complained that he did not assault Burke but rather was assaulted by the guard. A report of ...

New York City Paid McKinsey & Company Millions for Failed Program to Reduce Jail Violence

A December 10, 2019 report from ProPublica said the city of New York paid management consulting firm Mc­Kinsey & Company $27.5 million to reduce violence at jails on Rikers Island. But an investigation by the publication revealed that McKinsey manipulated reform efforts to give an appearance of success, while the data actually showed violence only increased.

McKinsey was hired in 2014 after media reports of an alarming rise in violence at Rikers. In less than two years, serious prisoner violence and use of force by guards had both increased by 50% and the U.S. Attorney’s Office had threatened to take legal action to force reforms.

That September, McKinsey was given a $1.8 million contract to determine the causes of violence at Rikers and propose solutions. But McKinsey had no experience with managing corrections facilities, and it pitched a “proprietary workplace survey” to then-Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte, spotlighting how it helped increase productivity at a strip mine by 50%.

Nevertheless, by March 2015 Mc­Kinsey and corrections officials had settled on a “14-Point Plan” to curb jail violence. The plan’s provisions ranged from adding educational opportunities for prisoners to improving staff training. According to Elizabeth Crowley, former chairperson of ...

Illinois Prison Guilty of Censoring Free Speech Over Facebook Posts

An Illinois federal district court held on September 9, 2019, that Larry Harris was retaliated against when he was punished and transferred to a less-desirable prison because of what his daughter, Amanda Carrasco, posted on her Facebook account.

Harris filed a § 1983 complaint against officials of Danville Correctional Center on March 27, 2017. He alleged that the warden, Victor Calloway, had Harris placed in segregation in retaliation for statements his daughter had posted stating that a guard at the institution was stealing canteen from prisoners’ orders, purposely overcharging, and stealing taxpayer dollars.

Harris said that Lt. Charles Campbell wrote him a disciplinary report for threats and intimidation. He was transferred to Big Muddy River Correctional Center on a bad-adjustment transfer. He named Neil Flannery, Felicia Adkins, and John Peterson as co-defendants “acting in conspiracy” with Campbell and Calloway to silence his and his daughter’s freedom of speech.

Flannery and Adkins sat on the disciplinary board that refused to hear Harris’ evidence and based their decision solely on Campbell’s statement. Peterson was the grievance officer who would not fully investigate Harris’ grievance.

Harris requested $71,000 for his illegal segregation, permanent housing at Shawnee Correctional Center, employment as ...

Massachusetts Supreme Court Orders DOC to Free Terminally Ill Prisoners After DOJ Investigates Mistreatment

On January 28, 2020, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) voided several regulations used by the state Department of Correction (DOC) to justify denying 29 petitions by prisoners for medical parole, also known as “compassionate release.” The ruling came in a case by one of a number of prisoners who alleged prison officials wrongfully rejected their applications for medical parole. 

The SJC ruling followed the start of an investigation by the civil rights unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston that is focused on abuse of elderly and ill prisoners, and abuse of solitary confinement, in the state’s prisons. The ruling came two years after the state legislature provided for the release of terminally ill or permanently incapacitated prisoners.

DOC and Governor Charlie Baker “have embraced a policy of what we call delay, deny until they die,” said Ruth Greenberg, an attorney for a number of plaintiffs, who specializes in post-conviction releases.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruling provides immediate relief to 73-year-old Joseph Buckman, who was convicted of his wife’s 1997 murder and now suffers metastatic lung cancer. Greenberg’s other client in the case, Peter Cruz, died at age 61 of renal disease before the ruling ...

NY State Prisons Finally Stop Using Faulty Drug Testing Equipment; Class Action Lawsuit Filed by Victims

Nadezda Steele-Warrick, a prisoner at Albion Correctional Facility, was on the right track. After her 2015 conviction for assault, she had been a model prisoner, obtaining her GED, securing a spot in preferred housing, and working as a teacher’s assistant and exercise coach. She even earned her way into a family reunification program, which allowed her husband and son to stay with her overnight in private settings. She’d passed random drug screenings throughout her nearly four years in prison, and the reunification program rules required testing just before and after such visits.

During a day off from teaching classes in April 2019, Steele-Warrick was reading a book in her cell when guards informed her that her second drug test came back positive. At her disciplinary hearing, her husband testified that he did not see her use any drugs during their visit. She was found guilty of the violation and spent 11 days in a disciplinary Keeplock cell. She didn’t have access to hygiene items except during the one hour per day she was allowed out of her cell.

She was denied visitation with her family until her release in May 2019.

It turns out that she ...

All 50 States Report Prison Understaffing

by Brian Sonenstein, Shadowproof

Every state in the nation has reported prison staffing shortages since 2017, according to research by Shadowproof.

This is concerning because “staff shortages” are historically used to push for greater investments in prison systems, oftentimes riding reform waves like the one the United States is experiencing currently.

Officials claim investments are part of the modernization and improvement of carceral systems. Yet, as evidenced by the recurrence of reform movements every few decades, violence and abuse persist, and the staffing issues never truly abate.

In the first month of 2020, journalists called attention to so-called staffing crises in several states. Such issues were raised in the vast majority of other states in 2019.

Mississippi garnered national recognition for the deaths and atrocious conditions at Parchman. Staff levels were among the first excuses for such problems.

“Almost half of the roughly 1,300 corrections positions in three major facilities in Mississippi remain unfilled,” CBS News reported on January 23, pointing to a lawsuit blaming “the recent outbreaks of violence on the ‘culmination of years of severe understaffing and neglect at Mississippi’s prisons.’”

South Carolina prisons are rife with violence, neglect, and inhumane conditions. An incident at Lee Correctional ...

Tenth Circuit Holds BOP’s Change in Policy and Delivery of Censored Issues at ADX Super Max Prison Moots PLN’s Lawsuit

On December 13, 2019, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court’s dismissal of a federal lawsuit brought by PLN against the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) over censorship of the magazine at the United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) in Florence, Colorado.

BOP regulations permitted ADX prisoners to receive publications without prior approval unless they were prohibited by statute or “detrimental to the [facility’s] good order, or discipline,” as determined by the warden. (28 U.S.C. § 540.70-.72.) The regulations required the warden to notify the prisoner and the publisher of the rejection.

Between January 2010 and April 2014, ADX staff rejected 11 issues of PLN, which contained the name of an ADX or BOP prisoner or staff member. PLN filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging the rejection for “name-alone content,” as applied to PLN, violated its First and Fifth Amendment rights and the federal Administrative Procedures Act (APA). The lawsuit requested only declaratory and injunctive relief.

In February 2016, the ADX changed its institutional supplement, requiring additional personnel — including the legal department — to review incoming publications. In March 2017, then-Warden Jack Fox examined the rejected PLN publications with ...

Continuing Problems at Texas Jail Roil County’s Relationship with GEO Group

As previously reported in PLN, Florida-based GEO Group has had a litany of problems at the jail it operates for Liberty County, Texas. During a rocky 57-day stretch in mid-2019, there were prisoner escapes and suicides, discovery of contraband, guard theft of prisoners’ trust fund monies and maintenance problems that resulted in two failed inspections by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS). That led fed up county commissioners to seek a capacity reduction in their own jail – which would require GEO group to relocate prisoners and detainees at its own expense – while also requesting county staff to draft a Request for Proposal (RFP) to replace the privately-owned jail operator.

“It is concerning to us,” admitted County Judge Jay Knight. “The county is not responsible for the day-to-day operations of the jail, it’s GEO alone, but by statute, (county Sheriff Bobby Rader) is over the jail.”

The county owns the jail facility and is responsible for its maintenance. But no county employees are onsite because GEO Group is responsible for jail operations – a distinction that apparently left each party believing the other was liable for the jail’s many maintenance issues, which remained unresolved ...

Former Captain at Louisiana Private Prison Sentenced for Conspiracy to Violate Ban on Cruel and Unusual Punishment

by Bill Barton

Roderick Douglas, 38, of Monroe, Louisiana, was sentenced to serve 60 months in prison for his role in a conspiracy with five other guards at Richwood Correctional Center (RCC) to violate the Constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Douglas was sentenced June 5, 2019, by U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty of the Western District of Louisiana, for his actions in the October 2016 incident at RCC, a privately run federal prison near Monroe.

“Correctional officers deserve our respect for the jobs they do, but we must also hold them accountable when they willfully break the law and cover up the abuse of inmates,” U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph said. “The defendant in this case ignored his role as a caretaker for prisoners and violated the rights of those he was sworn to protect. My office is committed to upholding the laws of our land and the rights of all.”

Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband, who joined Joseph in making the announcement, said, “This blatant abuse of power will not be tolerated by the Department of Justice. Today’s sentencing demonstrates the commitment of the Civil Rights Division to vigorously prosecute those who inflict cruel and unusual ...

More States Restore Felony Voting Rights

In 2019, Colorado, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Nevada enacted legislation to restore voting rights to felons who have been released from prison but are still under such supervision, the latest of 24 states to make similar moves since 1997. Still, a 2016 estimate by the nonprofit Sentencing Project pegged the number of Americans disenfranchised by such laws at about 6.1 million.

“When we start carving people out just because of a crime they committed that had nothing to do with voting, we start stripping them of their humanity,” said New Jersey state Rep. Shavonda Sumter, the sponsor of legislation that restored voting rights to 80,000 formerly incarcerated felons.

In announcing Nevada’s move to re-enfranchise its 77,000 released felons in July 2019, Attorney General Aaron Ford agreed that voting is a vital part of a former prisoner’s successful re-entry into the larger society. The shift to restore voting rights is part of the reaction to the tough-on-crime policies of the 1980s and 1990s, which resulted in mass incarceration that left the U.S. with the largest prison population in the world.

Every state, except Maine and Vermont, strips felons of their voting rights in prison. On the other ...

Fund to Pay Wrongfully Convicted Prisoners in Michigan Is Broke Once Again

With the 2016 passage if its Wrongful Imprisonment Act, Michigan became one of 33 states with legislation creating a fund to compensate wrongfully convicted people, paying them $50,000 per year of their incarceration. But by early 2020 the fund didn’t even have enough money to pay off existing claims.

One of those left out is Nathaniel Hatchett, 39. Arrested at age 17 for sexual assault, he spent 10 years in prison before DNA evidence proved he did not commit the crime, and the charges were dismissed in 2008. A Michigan Court of Claims ordered the state to pay Hatchett $500,000 by January 16, 2019. But there were so many cases ahead of his that now the money still isn’t available in the compensation fund.

“It was good to get a judgment, but it’s not worth the paper it’s written on since they refuse to pay him,” said Hatchett’s attorney Wolfgang Mueller. “My client is hurting. He’s unemployed. They need to give him his money.”

Though the state has put $13 million into the compensation fund, its balance stood at just $323,800 as of March 4, 2019, leaving some exonerees, like Hatchett, unable to receive their court-ordered ...

Prison Plays Go on the Road, Teach Prisoners Life Skills

The Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) teamed up with the University of Denver’s Prison Arts Initiative and took some prison plays on the road last December. It’s the first time a prison play has gone on tour.

About 40 prisoners from the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility traveled to the Newman Center for the Performing Arts at the college’s campus to put on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for three sold-out shows.

“I think in our society, we tend to have a very specific stereotype of who is in prison,” Ashley Hamilton, founder of the college’s program, said. “My experience these last 10 years have really shown me that the majority of people who are inside are really ready to make a major change ... and I think that the arts are one way they can do that.”

In another prisoner production under Hamilton’s direction, 30 prisoners from Sterling Correctional Facility, a higher security men’s prison, took the classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on tour to another prison. The play is about a psychiatric ward run by strict staff and is not unlike real prison, Hamilton noted. She was surprised the DOC allowed the prisoners to ...

Former Prisoners Find Career Success and Help Others to Achieve the Same

Ex-felons are gaining more opportunities to rebuild their lives after release without having the stigma of incarceration hanging over their heads. With such measures as Ban the Box, Second Chance Employment, and self-startups, people with criminal convictions are getting a leg up on employment, a major factor in recidivism reduction.

The ABA Journal highlighted three such individuals in its July 2019 edition. The first, David Figueroa, grew up on the streets of Chicago. After two stints in prison, Figueroa decided he wanted something different. At age 29 he began work at a construction site. He also took several life skills classes being offered at a community-based organization. From there, he pooled his savings and in 2014 started his own business - Second Renovations.

Figueroa says he makes an effort to hire convicted felons. He starts them off at $12 an hour and provides them with power tools necessary for the job. He teaches construction skills to his employees and helps them to develop good work habits. “I’m really hard on my guys for the first 30 days because a lot of them don’t have any work experience,” he said. “Sometimes it’s very hard to get these guys ...

Audit: Privatizing Florida’s Prison Health Care Was Costly and Deadly Mistake

When former Florida Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011, he pushed to privatize health care for Florida prisoners. He promised the move would save taxpayers millions of dollars and it did, at least until 2014. An audit ordered by the state legislature found that since those initial savings, privatization has cost many millions more.

 “The contracts the [Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC)] entered into between 2012 and 2015, while they saved substantial amounts of money, resulted in substantial reductions in service,” said Karl Becker, senior vice president at CGL Companies and one of the audit’s authors. “Those savings you achieved during that time, you are probably paying for now” through lawsuits and increased costs.

FDOC was the subject of a class-action lawsuit that challenged the conditions of confinement, and the provision of medical care was a large feature of that suit. It took a while, but FDOC turned things around and had in place a very adequate medical system. Then Scott, the former CEO of Columbia/HCA, a giant health care company that was fined $1.7 billion for defrauding Medicare and Medicaid while Scott was in charge, became Florida’s governor. His agenda was to privatize as ...

California Prison Officials Put Hold on Policy That Led to “Gladiator Fights”

In September 2019, California prison administrators and officials agreed to put a hold on a policy known as “incremental release” after complaints from prisoners and their relatives that it had been used to promote a “divide-and-conquer” strategy at state prisons by orchestrating “gladiator fights” among prisoners, with guards even betting on contestants like a spectator sport in the Roman empire. This has been an ongoing issue at prisons in general and CDCR in particular for the past 30 years and PLN has reported on it repeatedly in that time period.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), “incremental release” is a method for desegregating prisoners by mandating the simultaneous release of rival gang members onto the prison recreational yard – even though staff members are fully aware that the consequences could be a violent confrontation. The resulting “gladiator prisons” allegedly include the California State Prison in Corcoran, the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad and the Pleasant Valley State Prison, among others throughout the state.

The idea is not new, having first made an appearance in 1990 in the Corcoran Secure Housing Unit, where guards staged fights between black and Latino gangs, taking voyeuristic ...

$1 Million Paid by Snohomish County Jail to Settle Detainee’s Opioid Withdrawal Death Lawsuit

On October 21, 2019, Snohomish County, Washington, agreed to pay $1 million to settle a lawsuit related to the death of Lindsay Kronberger. Kronberger had been a detainee at the Snohomish County Jail (“SCJ”) before she died in January 2014 of causes related to dehydration and opioid withdrawal. The suit was brought by Kronberger’s husband, John T. Gohranson, and by her father, Dale R. Kronberger (“Plaintiffs”).

The suit alleged that on January 3, 2014, the 24-year-old Kronberger was booked into the SCJ.

Kronberger self-reported she was addicted to heroin and answered “yes” when asked if she had withdrawal problems. She told Registered Nurse (“RN”) Joy Maine that she had used heroin earlier that morning. Maine placed Kronberger in the Medical Housing Unit (“MHU”) and put her on detox watch for heroin withdrawal.

Addicts undergoing withdrawal experience symptoms that include vomiting and diarrhea. While withdrawal is not fatal, excessive vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which can be, and in this case was.

Handwritten “Progress Notes” by medical staff listed Kronberger’s weight as 97 pounds. The following day, staff evaluated Kronberger, observing that her blood pressure was low and her heart rate elevated. By January 5, Kronberger’s ...

Massachusetts Prison Retaliates Against Prisoners for Assault on Guards; Court Grants Preliminary Injunction in Class Action

After January 10, 2020, prisoner riot left three guards injured at Massachusetts’ Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center (SBCC), prisoners and their loved ones said prisoners were subjected to retaliation, losing their property, being tased, locked down 23 hours a day and denied access to phones and visits. Attorneys and prisoners’ rights groups also claimed they had been unable to contact some of their clients inside the Lancaster maximum-security prison.

“Assaults have been widely reported,” said Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners Legal Services of Massachusetts.

She added that “a number of people” who were beaten by guards then endured further physical abuse after they quizzed guards for a motive behind their behavior.

“When one of their officers is assaulted, the entire prison will pay,” Matos said, reporting what some of SBCC’s nearly 1,000 prisoners had relayed from their guards.

Three guards in Unit N1 were surrounded and assaulted during the January melee. Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union (COFU) President Derek O’Connor said one guard had to “fight his way out,” while another suffered a broken jaw and the last required surgery.

SBCC Superintendent Steven Kenneway immediately put the prison on lockdown. That stretched for 11 days until January 21, ...

Kim Kardashian West Declares War on Mass Incarceration

Nationally known actress, fashionista and activist Kim Kardashian West has two new loves. One of them is the law and the other is a burning desire to help society’s lowest esteemed class, its convicted criminals.

Kardashian, the wife of rapper Kanye West, has recently completed a one-year legal study and apprenticeship. Later this year she will take what is called the “baby bar.” If she clears that hurdle, Kardashian will be able to enter into another three years of studying the law and then be able to take the regular state bar exam.

Her particular area of concern is the mass incarceration of U.S. citizens, which numbers around 2.2 million people and is proportionally higher than any other country in the world.

One of the recent causes she successfully tackled was the case of Alice Marie Johnson, who received a 25-year prison term on a first-time non-violent drug offense. She became so passionate about Johnson, a great grandmother, that she went to visit President Donald Trump at the White House. President Trump favorably responded to Kardashian’s entreaty and granted Johnson clemency in 2018. She had served 21 years in prison.

In a direct attack on mass incarceration, ...

Florida Lowers Minimum Age for Prison Guards But Fails to End Staff Shortages

A new law that reduces the minimum age to be a Florida prison guard has not helped resolve “critically low” staffing levels. Effective July 1, 2019, the minimum age to be a guard was reduced from 19 to 18.

Florida has struggled for over a decade in retaining staff to oversee its more than 96,000 prisoners. In 2012, the Florida Department of Corrections went from 8-hour to 12-hour shifts in a move to reduce the number of guard positions. That move pushed many veteran career guards to retire, as they were vested in the Florida pension plan after ten years of service.

The aftermath has seen a revolving door for guards. Hiring guards and getting through the correctional training program to certify them is not a problem. Retaining them for even two years is the issue. For many, the low pay is a severe deterrent, especially when the same certification earns a higher wage at a local jail.

“Staffing at the department has reached critically low levels, and many of the staff currently employed are extremely inexperienced,” Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) officials wrote in a legislative budget request filed in September 2019. The lack of ...

$1 Million Settlement in Atlanta Detainee’s Death From Untreated Diabetes

A $1 million settlement was reached in May 2019 in a lawsuit alleging the Atlanta City Detention Center (ACDC) left a pretrial detainee in an unlit confinement cell to die from untreated diabetes.

When Wickie Yvonne Bryant, 55, was booked into ACDC on September 14, 2015, it was noted that she suffered from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, diabetes, and hypertension. She said that she was taking medication for all three diagnoses. An intake test revealed an “extremely elevated blood-glucose level” of 353 mg/dl, but she refused to take insulin, saying it made her sick.

She was subsequently prescribed Metformin, an oral diabetic medication. Yet, from her intake until October 5, 2015, Bryant refused her “diabetic treatment,” which meant blood testing and medication. She submitted a request on September 20 advising officials about her medical and mental health treatment at several medical facilities.

Despite laying out her history of care regimen, ADCD’s medical staff never requested that information, nor did they offer mental health care. Her refusal to take medication for two straight days required staff, per ACDC policy, to inform a doctor to examine Bryant. That, however, never happened.

Then, on October 5, guard Marian Bullard-Whitaker moved ...

Artificial Intelligence for Surveillance Spreading to Prisons Around the Globe

Artificial Intelligence, long thought to be the wave of the future, has become a present reality in prisons around the globe. Facilities in Hong Kong and China have already established themselves on the cutting edge of “smart” incarceration.

The former has outfitted prisoners with wristbands similar to Fitbits that track location and other data, like heart rates. Other programs slated to begin soon include drug-detecting robots and surveillance systems tasked with flagging abnormal behavior. Yancheng prison in mainland China, meanwhile, has completed construction of its surveillance system that features hidden sensors and cameras in each cell. This data is uploaded daily to a computer that “generates a comprehensive report, including behavior analysis, on each prisoner using different AI functions such as facial identification and movement analysis.”

Tiandy Technologies, the company that created the Chinese system, has claimed its product will eliminate escapes, but it will do more than just monitor every move prisoners make. An inspection by party officials in December 2018 concluded that employees of the facility had not fully understood “its political nature in the new era.” It also determined that guards had violated rules, thus casting doubt on their personal ethics and political loyalty. ...

Suicide Rate of BOP Guards Keeps Increasing, Sets New Record

The suicide rate among guards in the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) keeps increasing, reaching a record high in 2019 for the most suicides in a single year: 14.

Top brass at both state and federal prisons have known for years that the suicide rate of prison guards is much higher than the general public. It even rivals that of Vietnam War veterans. But the challenge has always been what to do about it.

A recent study by University of California Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy gathered data from over 8,000 prison guards and parole officers in California and found that the problem has many facets. However, the big three factors were: dangerously low staffing levels, high levels of violence and threats of violence, and ineffective workplace programs to combat the problem.

The study was a first of its kind in trying to diagnose why guards keep killing themselves.

“Corrections is extremely difficult and emotionally demanding work,” said Amy Lerman, the lead author of the study and professor of public policy and political science at the university. “We are just beginning to understand the huge range of mental and physical health issues that can result from ...

What’s It Like Inside? Early Snapshots from Prisons During the Coronavirus Pandemic

As we are putting together the April issue of PLN, the situation with the novel coronavirus is changing by the hour, if not the minute. In the United States, the number of cases has climbed from 213 on March 8 to 173.041 on March 31 — and that’s sure to be an undercount since testing is barely off the ground. U.S. deaths as of March 31 had risen to 3,433, according to The New York Times.

It’s impossible to know how severe the coronavirus outbreak will be, but if ever there was a country primed for an epidemic, the U.S. is it. We have a serious shortage of hospital beds and ventilators. With no universal healthcare and a good chunk of the population without paid sick leave or money to pay for treatment, it’s safe to say things will get a lot worse — even with elected officials finally starting to act, some two months after the first case was confirmed in the U.S.

Schools, bars, restaurants, movie theaters and many workplaces are finally being shut down across the country. On March 19, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced extraordinary measures directing all 40 million California ...

Prisons and Jails Are Vulnerable to COVID-19 Outbreaks

by Nicole Wetsman, The Verge

Note: This story was originally published March 7.

This week, a person incarcerated in King County Jail in downtown Seattle was taken to the hospital after they were suspected of having the new coronavirus. The county says there are no cases currently in the jail, but the new virus remains a huge concern for correctional facilities, particularly in outbreak hotspots like King County. With 85 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, the county is home to the largest known hotspot of cases of the new coronavirus in the United States.

It’s only a matter of time before the novel coronavirus enters a U.S. jail or prisons, says Tyler Winkelman, co-director of the Health, Homelessness, and Criminal Justice Lab at the Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute in Minneapolis. “All prisons and jails should anticipate that the coronavirus will enter their facility, and they need to have plans for monitoring and treating anyone who has symptoms,” he says.

People regularly cycle in and out of jails and prisons, people who work in them leave and return daily, and visitors regularly stream through. Viruses of all kinds have multiple entry points, and those that enter ...

Prosecutors Sue Firm for Selling Bureau of Prisons Adulterated Food, Spices

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) sued a vendor and its owner for scamming over 80 prisons of $530,000 by selling diluted spices and food products.

The suit, filed November 1, 2019, was brought under the False Claims Act (FCA), also known as “Lincoln’s Law,” for violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA). The FDCA considers food to be adulterated if any substance is substituted, or any substance has been added or mixed or packed “to increase its bulk weight, or reduce its quality or strength, or make it appear better or of greater value than it is.”

BOP said part of its mission is to provide its 185,000 prisoners “healthy, nutritrionally-sound, and appetizing meals that meet the needs of the general population and those at nutritional risk. To purchase the food necessary to create the nearly 3.3 million meals per week, BOP utilizes a quarterly bid process that involves each prison posting a request for quotation (RFQ). The winning vendor provides the lowest bid.

Charlene Brach submitted bids as FlavorPros, LLC, and does business as Richards and Daniels, LLC. She underbid other vendors and was awarded contracts in South Carolina and across the ...

1.25 Million Corizon Settlement in Mentally Ill Michigan Prisoner’s Dehydration Death

The Michigan Department of Corrections and its medical vendor, Corizon Health, agreed in October 2019 to pay $1.25 million to settle a lawsuit involving the death of a mentally ill prisoner who died of dehydration after guards turned off the water in her confinement cell.

Darlene Martin, 66, was sent to prison for retail fraud. She was placed in the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility (WHV) in December 2013. Beginning in June 2014, she began complaining other prisoners were harassing her and wanting to perform oral sex on her.

Shortly afterward, she began exhibiting signs of mental illness. On June 10, 2014, she was placed in solitary confinement “as punishment for exhibiting signs of mental illness, specifically cursing and yelling,” the complaint alleged.

Between June 10 and June 22, Martin was “hog tied while naked, subjected to excessive force, deprived of food and water, forced to stand, sit, and lay in, while naked, her own feces and/or urine” by guards or while observed by them.

MDOC records reflect that Martin was at risk of heat-related illness and that she was unable to comply with her mental health treatment plan, causing medical officials to administer psychotropic drugs ...

Another Settlement in Sexual Assault Case at Pennsylvania Lackawanna County Prison

Pennsylvania's Lackawanna County paid $1.1 million to settle yet another lawsuit alleging several Lackawanna County Prison (LCP) guards sexually assaulted female prisoners. That brings the total for lawsuits the county has agreed to settle over the last three years to $2.4 million, most of which was paid by its insurance company.

PLN has reported on the sexual assault scandal and the previous settlements. In those cases, two settlements of $750,000 and $500,000 were reached in 2016. They alleged that guard Joseph Black sexually assaulted two women while held at LCP. He pleaded guilty in 2015 to indecent exposure and other offenses and was sentenced to 45 months to eight years in state prison. A $60,000 settlement was reached in June 2018 related to former guard Jeffrey T. Staff sexually assaulting a prisoner. [See PLN, December 2018, p. 26.]

The latest settlement was reached in early June 2019 is a global deal covering two lawsuits based on the claims of three women, who were represented by attorney Matthew Comerford. The complaint filed by Fox and Thompkins also includes the unsettled claims of former LCP prisoners Allison Demy and Joanne Perri.

That complaint details an open culture ...

As Coronavirus Spreads, New York Governor Exploits Prison Labor to Produce Hand Sanitizer

On March 9, with fears of coronavirus spreading, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York held a press conference to announce the debut of a new hand sanitizer called NYS Clean. It will be produced by state prisoners paid approximately 16 cents per hour through CorCraft Products, a division of Correctional Industries.

The prison-based manufacturer uses prison labor to produce myriad products — mattresses, pillows, textiles, glass cleaners, floor cleaners, degreasers, laundry detergents and other consumer and industrial products. Cuomo described NYS Clean’s fragrance to be “like a floral bouquet” as he pulled back a curtain at the press conference to reveal plastic bottles filled with the new product.

“New York can make a one-gallon bottle for $6.10 and a seven-ounce bottle for $1.12 which is much cheaper than the open market,” Cuomo said during the product launch.

Projections released during the press conference suggested that prisoners could generate about 100,000 gallons of the product per day. The announcement was made in the wake of shortages of hand sanitizers and price-gouging scams. One online seller advertised a 12-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer for $704.

Critics questioned whether New York was exploiting prisoners in a similar manner. “There ...

Ninth Circuit Reverses Suit Over Fees Charged Prepaid Debit Cards Given To Released Prisoners

On March 16, 2020, the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded a lower court decision dismissing a suit brought by a released prisoner over the fees charged to use the release funds placed on a debit card. The Human Rights Defense Center represented the plaintiff in this case.

Danica Brown was arrested in Portland, Oregon on November 25, 2014, for participating in a public protest. She was carrying $30.97 in cash at the time. She was released about seven hours later, with the charges eventually dropped. Instead of releasing her cash back to her, the Multnomah County Jail gave her a Numi Financial prepaid debit card with a $30.97 balance.

On the Numi website, Brown discovered that to get her funds she could make a transfer to her bank but declined to do so, not wanting to release her bank account information. She also discovered a monthly fee of $5.95 but assumed it would apply only after 30 days. On December 1, 2014, Brown attempted a $15 purchase with the Numi card but was declined for insufficient funds. Earlier that day, Numi had deducted the $5.95 monthly service fee, leaving her short of the $15. Worse, they then ...

Funding and Leadership Failures Result in Less Criminal Justice Data

Several late or missing reports from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) highlights a trend toward less reporting and accountability by the federal government.

The Crime and Justice Research Alliance, a nonprofit group that advocates for more funding for and access to criminal justice data, sent a letter on October 18, 2019 to the Department of Justice expressing concern about the federal government’s failure to post research data critical to assessing trends in crime, policing and prisons.

This data is critical for nonprofits and legislators when proposing policy initiatives based on trends and issues arising in a criminal justice context.

 “How can lawmakers and policy experts engineer legislation to address a problem across several distinct political and bureaucratic regimes if they have no idea what they’re dealing with in the first place?” asked Pacific Standard magazine.

Several important data sets have yet to be released or were significantly delayed. These include the Survey of Prison Inmates, the BJS Background Checks for Firearms Transfers Report Series, and the Deaths in Custody Reporting Program (DCRP). The DCRP data is especially important since its data includes information on suicides of people in custody, a number that was increasing ...

Virginia Governor Suspends Policy After Eight-Year-Old Strip Searched During Prison Visit

On December 6, 2109, Governor Ralph Northam suspended a Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) policy that authorized strip searches of minors.

An 8-year-old girl had been subjected to a strip search November 24, 2019, at Buckingham Correctional Center (BCC) in Dillwyn, before authorities allowed the child to visit her father.

“I am deeply disturbed by these reports — not just as governor but as a pediatrician and a dad,” Northam told a local newspaper. “I’ve directed the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security to suspend this policy while the department conducts an immediate investigation and review of their procedures.”

Even under then-existing rules, it appears that the incident in question was not allowable.

DOC Director of Communications Lisa Kinney wrote, “It is deeply troubling and represents a breach of our protocol. We sincerely apologize to this child and her family and will be taking immediate disciplinary action against the person responsible. Our procedure states that only a parent or legal guardian can approve the strip search of a minor; in this case, the adult visitor who signed the consent for the minor to be strip searched wasn’t the minor’s parent or legal guardian. The staff member ...

The Ongoing Push to End Outrageous Prison Phone Charges

Groups in several states are drawing increased attention to the high cost of jail and prison phone rates, and pushing to reduce or eliminate such charges. HRDC, the publisher of PLN, has been a leader in this movement since 1992 and founded the Prison Phone Justice Campaign in 2012 to end the financial exploitation of prisoners and their families.  It has achieved significant reductions in the cost of prison and jail phone calls. But much more is still needed. PLN has reported extensively on this issue over the past 28 years.

Unless someone has been through the criminal justice system themselves, or tried to stay in contact with a family member or friend in jail or prison, they are unlikely to be aware of the $1.75 billion industry that gouges consumers by providing phone services to prisoners.

There are few providers for inmate calling systems, though the two largest providers, Securus and Global Tel*Link, form a virtual duopoly in the market. Securus has contracts with about 3,400 prisons and jails in the United States, and Global Tel Link has over 2,400, according to a December 31, 2019 story from NBC News.

These companies “negotiate” ...

Former Prisoners Succeeding in Hospitality Industry

Regarding employment for newly released prisoners, two stereotypical jobs often come to mind, washing dishes and bussing tables at diners or restaurants. While those jobs are certainly still available, more and more prisoners are taking advantage of hospitality education and training to become cooks and chefs, filling an increasing demand in eateries across the United States and in Great Britain.

As is so often the case, California is leading the way in this area with San Quentin prison’s Quentin Cooks (QC). A culinary training program begun in 2016, QC was founded by restaurant chefs Lisa Dombroski and Helaine Helnitzer. QC’s aim is to impart basic to advanced cooking skills that are required in order to work in a commercial kitchen to prisoners. Teamwork and understanding of interaction with coworkers from diverse backgrounds also are part of the training.

The course lasts for 12 weeks with an average of nine men per class. Of the five successfully completed classes, 29 men were released. Twelve got jobs at well-known establishments like Oakland’s Homeroom and the Smoke Berkely barbecue restaurant.

The programs continues under the tutelage of local Marin County chef Huw Thornton and his assistant Adelaar Rogers.

Graduates receive ...

Washington State Pays $500,000 to Family of Man Who Died by Suicide

The family of Morgan Bluehorse, who committed suicide in solitary confinement at the age of 29, will receive $500,000 from the Washington state Department of Corrections, in a settlement reached November 13.

Bluehorse was a 29-year-old man when he found himself in an isolation cell at Airway Heights Corrections Center in spring 2014.

Bluehorse went to prison at the age of 18 in 2004 for a string of burglaries. He was sentenced to a term of 15 years. Bluehorse had been dealing with mental health issues all of his life. “In prison, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, severe depression, and other mental illnesses.”

Bluehorse spent most of his time in prison locked in a cell by himself. The Department of Corrections (DOC) chalked this up to keeping Bluehorse safe from being harmed by others as there was fear that he could be subjected to physical and sexual assault.

Despite the fact that there was a history of mental health issues coupled with serious attempts of self-harm, staff at the Airway Heights prison put Bluehorse in a solitary confinement cell shortly after he arrived at the prison. The next day, he was hanging from ...

California’s New “Progressive” Governor Seeks to Halt Parole for Some Murderers and “Serious” Offenders

Then convicted Newport Beach sex offender Trenton Veches won parole in mid-March 2019, it was granted despite opposition by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has otherwise displayed a progressive criminal justice reform position, including his controversial death penalty moratorium announced in March. But since taking office in January 2019, the governor has attempted to stop at least 33 parole cases wherein a “serious offender” has been granted release, according to documents provided by the governor’s office.

“Parole hearings usually take place in front of a two-person panel,” explained Newsom’s spokesman, Brian Ferguson. “The governor can’t revoke these paroles but can ask the state’s 15-member Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) to review them.”

Newsom has also stopped 46 paroles for murderers using “a different process that allows him to act unilaterally through executive powers,” Ferguson added.

“Each case that comes before the governor is evaluated on its own merits and receives careful review and consideration,” he said.

The 45-year-old Veches was convicted by a jury in a high-profile 2007 case – while working as a supervisor in a municipal youth recreation program, he “liked to suck on the toes of young boys” – and sentenced to two concurrent ...

Major Outbreak of Legionnaires’ at Coleman Women’s Work Camp

The women’s work camp at Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Sumter County, Florida, reported 18 confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease in early February of this year.

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) said it was working with the Department of Health (DOH) to identify the source of the infection, manage current cases and take necessary precautions.

The Miami Herald said officials at the prison would not answer questions about the outbreak, but prisoners and their families said the facility had a lot of people complaining about flu-like symptoms. “Apparently a large number of women have tested positive for Legionnaires’ disease,” wrote Paul Forkner’s daughter, who is incarcerated at Coleman. She said that many prisoners were not even being treated or were being diagnosed with a common cold.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection said Legionnaires’ disease is a lung infection acquired from breathing water vapor contaminated with Legionella bacteria. It can cause flu-like symptoms such as coughing, aching muscles and headaches. It is the leading cause of waterborne-disease outbreaks in the United States and can be fatal if not treated.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine said the bacterium grow rapidly in warm, stagnant conditions ...

California Exonerees Not Quite Innocent Under the Law

Many prisoners who get their convictions overturned, especially after serving lengthy prison terms, rightly expect to be compensated when they prove they never should have been prosecuted. However, exonerees in California often face a difficult battle for compensation, made all the more challenging by homelessness.

Glenn Payne is one of many persons whose conviction was overturned after serving prison time for a crime he didn’t commit. Payne spent 13 years in prison for a 1991 child molestation conviction that was overturned because the hair identification evidence linking him to the crime was discredited. At age 55, he’s regaining peace of mind as a free man who no longer has to register as a sex offender.

The state of California has laws in place to govern claims for compensation for those subjected to wrongful convictions. Payne doesn’t qualify, though, because his lawyers did not submit evidence that he was innocent of the crime by the end of the two-year filing deadline. Such a hurdle can be nearly impossible to overcome, especially in cases like Payne’s where the evidence was destroyed prior to his release.

Of the 76 former prisoners who have filed for compensation since 2006, the ...

Sixth Circuit Holds Ohio Rule Requiring Merit Affidavit Inapplicable in BOP Prisoner’s Tort Action

On November 7, 2019, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that an Ohio rule requiring a person alleging medical negligence to include a medical professional’s affidavit stating the claim has merit cannot be applied to a federal prisoner’s legal action against the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).

While incarcerated at a BOP prison in Ohio, Dennis Gallivan had surgery. It did not go well, and he filed a lawsuit in federal court under the FTCA claiming medical negligence. He did not include a medical professional’s affidavit – a so-called merit affidavit -- stating that the claim had merit. Citing Ohio Civil Rule 10(D)(2), which requires a merit affidavit, the district court dismissed the case.

Aided by Washington, D.C., attorneys William T. Marks, Melina M, Meneguin Layerenza, and Aaron J, Marks, Gallivan appealed. The Sixth Circuit noted that, if the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require such a merit affidavit and those rules are valid under the Constitution and Rules Enabling Act, then federal rules, not Ohio Rule 10(D)(2), must be applied.

The Federal Rules do not require an affidavit to state a medical negligence claim. Rule 8(a) ...

Illinois Prisoner Locked Up Decades Without a Conviction or Sentence

On October 11, 1982 Terry Allen was arrested and charged with sexual assault, after he allegedly forced a woman he’d just met at the McDonalds where she was employed to drive him in her car to a secluded spot and perform oral sex on him.

But in lieu of facing a criminal trial, he was offered civil commitment by prosecutors. Allen’s attorney told him if he underwent civil commitment “it would likely only last six months to a year.” Instead, Allen has remained in prison in Illinois for 36 years without a criminal conviction, or a release date specified, and — as of publication time — he is still incarcerated.

In their efforts to have him civilly committed, prosecutors hired two psychiatrists to determine if Allen met the criteria of being a “sexually dangerous person” (SDP). They then relied on what Allen told those doctors to move toward civil commitment instead of a criminal trial. Believing he needed to convince the psychiatrists that he was an SDP in order to avoid being locked up for a lengthy sentence, Allen told the psychiatrists that he’d forced a number of women to perform sex acts with him – something ...

They Went to Jail. Then They Say They Were Strapped to a Chair for Days.

Allegations in a Missouri lawsuit shed light on how some jail officials use restraint chairs, which have been linked to dozens of deaths.

by Maurice Chammah, The Marshall Project, published in partnership with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Shortly after Christmas in 2016, Albert Okal began acting strangely in the Wayne County Jail. He was “jumping around, seeing things,” his lawyer says. The 41-year-old was facing a charge of driving while intoxicated in southeastern Missouri.

Okal does not recall why he became so agitated, but his lawyer said Okal does remember how the jail staff responded: They cuffed his wrists and ankles to a “restraint chair,” where they force-fed him, covered his head with a blanket, addressed him with the n-word and refused to let him use the bathroom, leaving him to urinate and defecate on himself. He remembers being restrained for five days, his lawyer said.

Last fall, Okal sued Wayne County, the county sheriff Dean Finch, and a number of jail staffers, claiming this experience left him with physical pain and emotional trauma, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch previously reported. Wayne County jailers have denied placing Okal in the device.

Okal’s lawsuit is the latest keyhole into the ...

Muslim Georgia Prisoner Wins RLUIPA Reversal in 11th Circuit Over Vegetarian Meals

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in an unpublished opinion, reversed the dismissal of a Georgia prisoner’s First and Eighth Amendment damage claims that alleged he was denied a vegan diet that conformed to his Muslim religious beliefs.

While held at Valdosta State Prison (VSP) in 2015, prisoner Marquise Ali Robbins, filed a civil rights action asserting claims under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the First and Eight Amendments. Robbins alleged that he opted to receive VSP’s “restricted vegan meal,” which is intended to be consistent with the dictates of Islamic dietary rules.

Robbins asserted his diet contained insufficient “nutritional value,” “lacked sufficient calories” and contained only half the nutritional value as provided other prisoners. The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint, finding Robbins failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

On appeal, it was noted that Robbins was transferred from VSP to Hays State Prison. The Eleventh Circuit found this mooted all injunctive relief claims, so it affirmed dismissal of the claims under RLUIPA and the First and Eighth Amendment that sought such relief.

The court, however, found the First and Eighth ...

$110,000 Settlement for Outed Wisconsin Prisoner Informant

Regular readers of Prison Legal News may remember the April 2019 article (page 61) chronicling the story of Wisconsin prison guard Sergeant Robert Wilcox. Wilcox placed images of a rat, signifying an informant, next to the names of five prisoners working for a gang intelligence investigator, Captain Jason Wilke. Wilcox left the altered roster in a desk, where it was viewed and copied by other prisoners at the Redgranite Correctional Institute (RCI).

The informants’ lives were allegedly endangered and Captain Wilke and his family began receiving threats as well. The prisoners were transferred to other prisons for their safety. Wilke reported the threats to law enforcement since prison administrative personnel, in violation of policy, refused to do so. He eventually took early medical retirement, fearing retaliation by prison officials for having sought law enforcement protection.

Wilcox, a member of the Redgranite Governing Board (city council), was suspended for a day. He subsequently quit his job at the RCI.

Prisoner Joseph Benson, one of the informants outed by Wilcox, filed for relief in a federal court under 42 U.S.C., § 1983 in a pro se filing. Attorney Ben H. Elson of Chicago’s People’s Law Office stepped in and ...

$70,000 Settlement For Oregon DOC Prisoner Dying from Flu

Oregon citizen Tina Ferri began serving a 70-month sentence for felony assault and methamphetamine possession at the Oregon Department of Corrections’ (ODC) Coffee Creek Correctional Facility (CCCF) for women in October of 2017.

In March of the following year, an Oregon appeal court reversed her assault conviction, but by then Ferri had died of flu. She was 53-years-old and had entered the ODC without significant health problems.

Ferri caught the flu shortly after entering the CCCF. That outbreak was particularly virulent. As the infirmary filled to capacity, newly infected patients were quarantined to their assigned cells. Their cellmates were not moved if they were not infected, needlessly exposing others and compounding the contagion problem.

Even more egregious was the ODC’s and CCCF’s near total lack of overall preventative measures to guard against a flu outbreak. For the 2017 flu season, ODC purchased 4,650 vaccines for its 14,550-prisoner population. Only 4,550 prisoners requested a vaccination, which meant that only 31.27 percent of Oregon’s prison population were inoculated against the flu for that year.

The situation was even more dismal at the CCCF, where 519 vaccines were purchased for 1,645 prisoners. Only 300 prisoners requested a vaccination,18.23 percent of ...

Opioid Epidemic Keeps Climbing at California Prisons, and Claiming Lives of Released Prisoners as Well

With opioid overdoses claiming the lives of over 68,000 Americans annually, detention facilities have reported a corresponding rise in drug-related deaths among those incarcerated or recently released. (See PLN, September 2019, p. 1.) California’s nearly three dozen penal institutions recorded 997 overdoses in 2018, more than double the number just three years earlier. Forty prisoners died from overdoses in California in 2017, a rate three times the average nationwide.

Although cancer, heart disease and liver disease remain the top killers of California prisoners, overdoses have outpaced suicides and homicides since 2017 to claim the fourth spot. Meanwhile, a November 21, 2019 story in Capital & Main said that “Drug overdoses are the single greatest factor contributing to Los Angeles’ rising rate of homeless mortality,” and that many of those dying on the streets were recently released prisoners. “Released prisoners may get clean behind bars…but the medications prescribed in jail detox programs aren’t normally the kind to adequately wean them from their opioid cravings,” the story said. “With the resultant loss of tolerance, if they relapse on the outside one erroneously judged dose can kill them.”

The numbers of prison deaths have risen despite increases in funds ...

$1.5 Million Settlement in Georgia Youth’s Rape at Juvenile Detention Center

The Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) agreed to a $1.5 million settlement in a lawsuit alleging a 14-year-old was the target of several beatings and attacks and was raped in a shower by a 17-year-old detainee.

The lawsuit identifies the victim as “N.T.” and relates to conditions of confinement he endured at Augusta Youth Development Campus (AYDC) in 2011. The complaint named 15 officials who worked for DJJ. AYDC is DJJ’s facility to house committed youths in its system and who have been identified with mental health problems.

DJJ was the subject of a U.S. Department of Justice report in 1998 that found systematic and pervasive violations of juveniles’ constitutional rights. Among the problems were staff shortages, staff use of excessive force, a culture of violence and sexual assault, and lack of mental health care. A Memorandum of Understanding required DJJ to make changes, and DJJ was removed from supervision in 2009 after it met its obligations. The complaint alleged that after the consent decree ended, “a pattern of pervasive system-wide abuses in DJJ facilities across the state returned.”

When N.T. entered AYDC on March 8, 2011, he had a history of psychiatric hospitalization in ...

$1.25 Million Jury Award to Rikers Prisoner Over Jail Beating

In January 2018, Jose Guadalupesettled a lawsuit for a total of $1,250,000 for a “severe beating” he suffered at the hands of jailers in the city’s notorious Rikers Island complex. He would eventually net a bit less than half of that amount after paying attorney’s fees and settling claims filed against him by the four people he was accused of robbing, which was the reason for him being incarcerated at Rikers Island to begin with.

New York state passed the earliest Son of Sam Law (SOSL) after David Berkowitz, aka the Son of Sam, was arrested in 1977 for a spree of random killings. The law was intended to prevent convicted persons from reaping a profit by barring them from selling book or movie rights about their crimes. Critics attacked the law as a violation of the First Amendment and in 1991 the Supreme Court declared the statute unconstitutional in Simon and Schuster v. New York Crime Victims Board, 502 U.S. 105 (1991).

However, New York and other states subsequently passed new versions of the SOSL to get around the Supreme Court decision. New York’s, passed in 2001, bars a convicted person from receiving more than $10,000 ...

Are Prison Law Libraries Adequate?

If you’ve ever had to rely on a prison law library to research for a court filing, you know just how sorely lacking they can be. And that’s if you were even able to access the law library. Many states do not provide law libraries for prisoners.

Over 40 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 813 (1977), that “the fundamental constitutional right of access to the courts requires prison authorities to assist inmates in the presentation and filing of meaningful legal papers by providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law.”

But what is an “adequate” law library? This has never been defined by the Supreme Court, and no clear standard says what a prison must provide in its law library to meet the mandate of Bounds. The defendants in Bounds never provided North Carolina prisoners with law libraries.

Nearly every prison has its own idea of what an adequate law library means, and nearly every one of them has tossed books and gone digital (except Oklahoma). But what’s on the computers may not be what the public has access to. ...

PrimeCare Medical Pays Bulk of $252,000 Settlement in Pennsylvania Jail Detainee’s Suicide

A $252,000 settlement was reached in October 2019 in a lawsuit brought by the estate of a pretrial detainee who hanged himself at Pennsylvania’s Northampton County Prison (NCP).

Kyle A. Flyte, 21, was booked into NCP on March 5, 2017 and was placed on “Level II Suicide Watch” the next day. He was evaluated by PrimeCare Medical psychiatrist Kishor Kumar Dedania on March 7. Dedania released Flyte from suicide watch and he was moved to a disciplinary confinement cell.

The complaint alleged the disciplinary action was based on Flyte not being honest about his drug use prior to entering NCP. While Flyte said he had not used drugs, a drug test for opioids returned a positive result. Consideration of the effect of isolation on someone with suicidal tendencies was not considered, nor were the change in circumstances concerning Flyte’s possibilities for bail.

On the morning of March 8, Flyte violated rules by hanging a blanket across the bars of his cell. He then used a shoelace and hanged himself between the half-hour guard rounds. No one investigated why a blanket was hung across the bars until a guard made rounds at 10:26 a.m.

Flyte was taken ...

Arizona Prison Water Woes Ease Up

The water at Douglas Prison, which has over 2,000 of Arizona’s prisoners, had a “noticeable petroleum odor and taste” and “was burning [prisoners’] skin after showers and causing diarrhea” in June 2019, Jimmy Jenkins of KJZZ-FM reported.

The problem arose after the facility switched to a different well following a leak that caused a water outage earlier in the month. That outage lasted several days, during which prisoners and staff survived on bottled water and used chemical toilets.

Toxic drinking water in major cities, and jails, like Flint, Michigan, and Newark, New Jersey, has made headlines in recent years and undermined trust in authorities who assured the public that no problems existed. For marginalized populations like prisoners, the slow reactions and outright denials of officials can extend crises for years and compound other issues.

Residents of the Wallace Pack Unit in Texas, the majority of whom are aged and have health problems, were told to drink up to two gallons of water a day to cope with excessive summer heat, yet a 2017 report revealed the water there contained over four times the level of arsenic allowed by the EPA. A federal judge responded to an emergency ...

Seventh Circuit Appeals Court Upholds Ruling Against Wisconsin Prisoner’s Medical Negligence Claim

A Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on October 29, 2019 that there was a rational basis for the jury to determine that nurse Angela McLean and guard Joseph Cichanowicz did not violate prisoner James Lewis’ constitutional rights by delaying medical assistance, and that the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin did not err in its ruling against Lewis.

Lewis filed suit for deliberate indifference and medical malpractice against the defendants in 2014. He claimed that on the morning of February 8 of that year he awoke with paralyzing pain. After much time sitting in his bunk, unable to move, Lewis finally hit the call button for assistance.

Cichanowicz and McLean came but refused to help Lewis because he would not stick his hands out the trap door to be cuffed for transport. It was not until an hour and a half later when Lewis fell to the floor trying to get to the door that help was sent to take him to the hospital.

Lewis’ original medical malpractice claim was dismissed, and the defendants were granted summary judgment. Lewis appealed and was granted a rehearing with an appointment of counsel. He also ...

Precedential Settlement Eliminates Solitary Confinement on Pennsylvania’s Death Row

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PDOC) has agreed to operate a Capital Case Unit (CCU) “as a general population unit that exclusively houses prisoners sentenced to death.” That change in conditions is part of a settlement agreement to a lawsuit that challenged death row prisoners’ conditions of confinement.

The agreement was announced on November 18, 2019. It resolves a lawsuit brought by the ACLU in January 2018, which alleged violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments from placing death row prisoners in solitary confinement for years or decades on end.

“The use of long-term solitary confinement on anyone is torture,” said Amy Fettig, deputy director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “The conditions Pennsylvania’s DOC was subjecting people on death row to — spending their entire lives in a tiny, filthy cell without any normal human contact, congregate religious services, sufficient access to exercise, sunshine, the outdoors, or environmental and intellectual stimulation — weren’t just deeply unconstitutional; they were horribly inhumane.”

Under the settlement, death row prisoners will be able to use the phone on a daily basis for 15 minutes, have contact visits, have at least 42.5 hours of out-of-cell activity a week — to ...

GEO Group, Largest Private Prison Contractor, Cranks Up Political Contributions During Trump Years

In August 2016, just after an Obama administration decision to stop contracting with for-profit private prisons sent its stock price tumbling, GEO Group, Inc., the country’s largest private prison contractor, donated $100,000 to a super PAC aligned with then-presidential candidate Donald J. Trump.

Through a wholly owned subsidiary called GEO Corrections Holdings, Florida-based GEO Group, Inc. – whose $2.33 billion in 2018 revenues would have been threatened had Hillary Clinton won and continued Obama’s policy – then gave another $125,000 a week before the election to the Trump-aligned super PAC, known as “Rebuilding America Now” and chaired by Florida’s then-governor and current senator, Rick Scott. When Trump won, GEO Group stock quickly rose 21%, and it gave an additional $250,000 to his inauguration committee.

In February 2017, a month after Trump’s inauguration, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he was rescinding the Obama policy and expanding federal use of private prison contractors instead. Two months later, the administration awarded a $110 million, 10-year federal contract to GEO Group for construction and operation of a 1,000-bed facility in Texas to house undocumented detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the $10 billion federal agency primarily tasked with implementing ...

Pennsylvania Board Revokes Psychologist’s License Over Prisoner Suicides

The Pennsylvania Board of Psychology revoked the license of psychologist James Harrington and imposed $62,233 in civil penalties and costs. The revocation was based on seven suicides over an 18 month period at SCI Cresson, which has closed since the deaths nearly a decade ago.

The December 3, 2019, order said three suicides and 17 others who attempted suicide while under Harrington’s care were foreseeable and preventable. The order found Harrington abdicated his ethical responsibility to intervene when mentally ill prisoners were placed in solitary confinement and prevented from leaving their cells for treatment.

The board’s order focused on Harrington’s role as the top psychologist responsible for treating the prisoners. It noted his “treatment” of prisoners that included allowing a prisoner with schizoaffective disorder to attend a mental health meeting naked and ordering the prisoner to sing, “I’m a Little Tea Pot.”

Harrington also approved a behavior modification plan for the prisoner that placed the prisoner in isolation with only an anti-suicide smock and food loaf while removing all bedding, including a mattress, and not providing psychological treatment.

The order also outlined the case of prisoner John McClellan, Jr., who threatened to hang himself and who ...

$596,475 in Fees and Damages Awarded Against NY DOCCS For Contempt in Denying Pain Medication to Blind Prisoner

U.S. District Court Judge Loretta A. Preska has ordered the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and Community Supervision (DOCCS) to pay up in a victim of contempt case.

Amy Jane Agnew, an attorney representing Anthony Medina a prisoner who is blind, filed a complaint on March 12, 2015 arguing that his civil rights were violated by medical staff failing to effectively treat his pain. In February 2017, the Court issued an order granting a preliminary injunction, directing the DOCCS to immediately reinstate Medina’s prescription of Tramadol (Ultram) or an alternate but equally effective pain medication for neuropathic pain.

The Court also ordered the DOCCS to dim or turn off Medina’s overhead cell light in accordance with past accepted requests regardless of his housing facility and unit.

On June 21, 2108, Medina moved the Court for a finding of civil contempt, requesting monetary damages for unnecessary pain and suffering, and attorney’s fees. The court gave a detailed ruling finding in Medina’s favor and ordering the parties to confer regarding fees and damages. See: Medina v. Buther, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23529.

The Court issued a decision on September 12, 2019, granting Medina’s request. The ...

News in Brief

Afghanistan:  The Ministry of Interior Affairs is working on a draft proposal aimed at reducing jail time, while promoting “reading culture.” By the end of 2019, Afghanistan had at least 35,000 prisoners in jails across the country. If the proposal is adopted, a prisoner could receive a six-day prison sentence discount for reading a book and giving a 10-minute presentation about it. To qualify, the book must be at least 100 pages. Pul-e-Charkhi Prison in Kabul often houses up to 10,000 prisoners, of which 2,000 Taliban insurgents are housed in the Block Six wing. It is unclear if the proposed reading program would be available to Block Six residents.

Arizona: Back in May 2019, a fugitive Pima County, Arizona, couple was picked up in Henrietta, New York. Blane and Susan Barksdale were wanted for killing Frank Bligh in Tucson in early April, taking his car and setting fire to his house. They sat in the Monroe County, New York, jail for three months before being handed over to Security Transport Services on August 22. Six days later, they overpowered security officers in Blanding, Utah. They were on the lam again. Considered armed and dangerous, cash rewards were offered, ...

$425,000 Settlement in Arkansas Detainee’s Death from Asthma Attack

Sharon L. Alexander, 41, was arrested on December 13, 2016, for robbery after a scuffle with a store loss prevention clerk, tried to prevent the theft of $234.16 in clothing. Alexander was taken to the Pulaski County Jail. A medical intake form showed she was 100% disabled, suffered from sickle cell anemia, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis. She possessed an asthma pump upon arrest, but it was taken from her upon booking.

After she was booked, Alexander was placed in a cell. Late the next morning, Guard Eddie Turner watched three other detainees assist Alexander down the stairs of the cell block. He had Alexander sit down, and she told him she suffered from sickle cell, was cold, and had been throwing up. Turner called for medical assistance, but a nurse later told him that would be checked the next day. Detainee Paradise Williams helped Alexander complete the form, which included a request that she be provided her asthma pump ...