by Christopher Zoukis
“Mother Nature is a serial killer. No one’s better. More creative. . . . She’s a bitch.”
– World War Z
Between January and August of 2019, the Department of Health and Human Services played a game, a simulation of sorts. The exercise was called Crimson Contagion, and it was designed to help the U.S. prepare for a viral pandemic.
During the simulation, as reported by The New York Times, a group of 35 tourists from the United States, Australia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Thailand, Britain and Spain visited China. While there, they became infected with an unknown virus, flew home, and became their respective countries’ Patient Zeros. The World Health Organization declared a pandemic seven weeks later. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidelines for social distancing and state governments directed the workforce to stay home. Nonetheless, the simulation predicted, the pandemic would ultimately infect 110 million Americans and kill 586,000.
Coronavirus: The Origins
On December 31, 2019, the Chinese government acknowledged the treatment of citizens in Wuhan, China, for pneumonia. Within a few days, Chinese researchers identified a new virus that had sickened dozens of people in Asia.
Daniel Hernandez was a Brooklyn rap artist who managed to achieve no small measure of fame. To his fans he was Tekashi 6ix9ine. He decided to live the gangsta life and rapped about his time as a member of New York City’s Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods. He also became known to the feds as a co-conspirator, amongst a few unpleasant legal monikers.
Hernandez was 23 years old when the feds arrested him in November 2018. Seeing the error of his ways (not to mention a probable 47 years to life sentence) Hernandez quickly decided to cooperate against his former fellow gang members as a government witness.
In September 2019, Hernandez’s rap turned into a canary’s song. His testimony was instrumental in securing racketeering conspiracy convictions against two fellow gang members, Anthony Ellison and Aljermiah Mack, during a three-day trial.
While testifying, Hernandez pegged fellow rappers Jim Jones and Cardi B as Nine Trey Gangsta Blood members.
Jones’ spokesperson declined to answer questions on the matter while Cardi B denied she had been s member of Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods. However, in a 2018 interview with Gentleman’s Quarterly magazine, Cardi B admitted to prior gang involvement, stating, “I ...
Prison Legal News launched in May 1990, making this the thirtieth anniversary issue. I hand typed five pages, half the issue, in my maximum-security prison cell and Ed Mead, my co-editor, typed the other half in his cell. We sent it out to a volunteer to photocopy and mail to our aspiring mailing list of 75 people we hoped would subscribe.
For the past 20 years, the cover story of PLN that marks each five-year anniversary has our history from the beginning in 1990 to the present, along with a summary of our First Amendment and public records litigation. That is what we were planning to do for this issue. And then COVID-19 erupted. We will be reporting on COVID-19 for the duration of the pandemic, which we expect, tragically, to get much, much worse for prisoners. Hopefully, by the end of the year we can run that PLN 30th anniversary story.
One of the challenges of running a monthly magazine is timeliness. In our 30-year history our focus has always been on getting the story right. We have seen that most of the time when disasters strike, whatever initial news coverage that comes out turns out ...
by Jasmine Heiss and Jack Norton, reprinted from Truthout
Infrastructure development is a matter of life and death: This has always been true, and we are now in a clarifying moment.
In the midst of a mounting public health crisis in the United States, state, local and federal governments are struggling to address a lack of hospital capacity, manage the production of personal protective equipment, and even repurpose college campuses and convention centers to respond to the rapid spread of COVID-19. The nation’s smallest communities are meeting the outbreak clinging to a woefully inadequate or virtually nonexistent public health safety net. Rather than hospitals or health clinics, much of the rural U.S. is dotted with jails and prisons; places where vulnerable people live in inescapably close proximity, and the novel coronavirus can be a death sentence.
For decades, every level of government in the United States invested in the creation of a sprawling and decentralized infrastructure of premature death: jails, detention centers and prisons. Since the turn of the millennium, the number of people jailed and sent to prison from major cities has declined. But in the rural U.S., more and more poor and sick people have been locked up, ...
In the April issue of Prison Legal News, I discussed the nature of the disease called COVID-19 (COrona VIrus Disease-2019) and ways to protect yourself and your facility through personal cleanliness, social distancing and environmental cleanliness. This month I will continue those themes and also give suggestions about how to take care of yourself if you get sick.
Higher Risk for Severe Disease
The most common risk factors for severe disease have been older age, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. But anyone, at any age, even without existing chronic illness, can get very sick. Be extra careful to protect yourself from infection if you have any chronic medical condition. Here is some more information about HIV infection and heart disease.
- Inadequately treated HIV infection: All HIV patients should be tested for viral load (counts of viruses in the blood) and CD4 lymphocyte count (a special type of white blood cell). Viral load tells whether the person with HIV is infectious to others. CD4 count is a measure of the immune system’s ability to fight infections. The normal CD4 count is above 500 cells per cubic millimeter. It appears that people with HIV taking effective treatment ...
by Dale Chappell
Now the whole country is incarcerated,” Theophalis “Binky Bilal” Wilson said after being released in January 2020, exonerated after 28 years wrongfully in prison, only to find himself locked in at home. “This is a microcosm of what a person experiences when he is incarcerated,” he said. “This is nothing.”
He’s of course talking about the “lock down” of the entire world due to the coronavirus pandemic that has city streets deserted across the nation. Wilson was exonerated this year after it was found that the prosecutor used false evidence, false accusations, and committed “official misconduct” in securing a murder conviction against Wilson when he was 17.
While the stay-at-home orders have prevented him from restarting his life going to work for a law firm helping others still stuck in prison, he’s happy to give advice to those who have never experienced being locked down. He’s also hopeful the “incarceration” of the country will create some empathy for prisoners stuck in prisons being ravaged by the coronavirus.
Another recent exoneree, Mark Whitaker, also has some advice to the newbies on “lock down” at home: “You have to be creative. You better have something to do with you ...
Patrick Jones first federal prisoner to die after judge rejects plea
by David M. Reutter
A non-violent federal drug offender who pleaded for early release in the months prior to the COVID-19 pandemic hitting America died of the disease. Patrick Jones, 49, was the first federal prisoner to die of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Jones was serving a 27-year sentence at Federal Correctional Institution Oakdale in Louisiana.
The American Civil Liberties Union said in a letter to a federal court that the prison, which houses about 1,800 prisoners, is a virus tinderbox “ready to explode.” The court is overseeing a lawsuit the ACLU filed in early April that alleged the conditions at FCI Oakdale violate prisoners’ Eighth Amendment rights. On April 22, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit.
As of April 11, 2020, FCI Oaksdale reported that 38 prisoners and 17 staff had tested positive for coronavirus. Since March 21, six of those prisoners died. The ACLU urged a federal judge to release hundreds of FCI Oakdale prisoners to home confinement.
Attorney General William Barr instructed the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) on April 3, 2020, to increase home confinement releases. “We have to move with dispatch ...
On April 15, President Donald Trump announced that the coronavirus pandemic had peaked in the United States. That same day, nearly 2,300 people in the country died from COVID-19, the disease cause by the virus, which was the highest tally in a single day. The following day the number nearly doubled.
That brought the nationwide death toll to more than 35,000 and the number of cases to about 650,000. The U.S. has slightly more than 4% of the world population but, rather astonishingly, nearly one-third of all global cases and more than one-fifth of all deaths as of April 16.
All this raises serious doubts about whether or not the incidence of coronavirus will decline significantly any time soon, as the president optimistically stated. Predicting how a global pandemic will unfold is a fool’s errand, as the coronavirus outbreak has well demonstrated. The media has trotted out “scientific” models that show sharply different outcomes, with some allegedly reputable experts having claimed up to 2 million Americans will die while others say the death count will be around 60,000.
One thing that’s absolutely clear, though, is that the situation is particularly dire in America’s carceral complex, with the ...
Prisoners jailed with a conviction at New York’s Rikers Island were offered $6 an hour to dig mass graves at Hart Island, where more than 1 million mostly indigent city residents are already buried. In a city with decreasing space to bury the dead, Hart Island in the northeast Bronx is in high demand during the coronavirus pandemic. Around 25 bodies are normally buried there per week, but that number had climbed to about 125 by early April.
Avery Cohen, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio, confirmed the offer of $6 an hour for prisoners to The Intercept on March 31. He said it was not “COVID-specific,” but the timing and the fact that the offer included provision of personal protection gear such as face masks left clear it was directly related to the pandemic. So did the pay rate, which was exorbitant by the paltry standard of prison labor in general.
New York City is a global center of the coronavirus pandemic. As of April 16, more than 12,000 city residents had died from COVID-19.
Prisoners have historically maintained Hart Island, the city’s public cemetery. In 2018, they were paid 50 cents per hour. Instead of plots, the ...
Court-appointed advocates filed a motion in federal court concerning the Arizona prison director’s response to the coronavirus, which federal Judge Roslyn Silver called “troubling,” writing that it “may reflect a failure to accept what could be a grave threat.”
She wasn’t the only one disturbed by Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry Director David Shinn’s handling of the pandemic. News that at least three Arizona prison guards had tested positive for the coronavirus as of April 1, 2020, did not reach prison staff and the prisoners through the department, but only via TV news.
It wasn’t until the morning after ABC15 broke the news that Winslow prison warden John Mattos sent an all-staff email admitting the details. Still, he criticized the news channel, writing that “they are not our friends” and “are only looking for a big story.”
ABC15 obtained internal emails and documents showing that as of April 1, only 30 percent of symptomatic prisoners had been tested, and that 358 prison employees had been turned away from coming to work because of health screening at the gate.
“I really don’t understand the rationale of DOC’s lack of transparency at all,” said Rep. Diego Rodriguez. ...
In June 2019, California’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) published its annual report, “Monitoring the Use of Force,” for incidents the previous year at all juvenile and adult facilities operated by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The OIG’s office reviewed 6,426 incidents where an allegation of excessive force was made. Inspector General Roy Wesley wrote in an accompanying letter to state lawmakers that “The department’s overall compliance rate remains low, with the Department finding only 55% of incidents in full compliance with its policies and procedures.”
“Use of force is sometimes necessary when dealing with incidents that may pose a safety and security risk for both inmates and staff,” Vicky Waters, department spokeswoman, said in response to the report. “It is a priority for our department that all staff follow policies, protocols and procedures, and we will continue to collaborate with the [OIG] to ensure full compliance.”
“Whatever training they’re using to reinforce the policy isn’t working,’’ said Don Specter with the Prison Law Office, which stresses that there is very little accountability when violations of policy occur. “The good news is that when they review the use of force they figure out that ...
In May 2019, a final settlement agreement was approved for 15 prisoners who were exposed to Hepatitis C when a Correctional Managed Health Care (CMHC) nurse at MacDougall-Walker State Prison in Suffield, Connecticut, used the same needle to inject insulin to multiple diabetic patients, refilling the syringe from a common-use vial.
The first prisoner injected was also a Hepatitis C patient, sparking the contagion fears. The incident occurred in summer 2013; settlement payments ranged from $750 to $2,000 per prisoner claimant.
The Connecticut Department of Corrections (CDOC) and UConn Health — the University of Connecticut branch that operates CMHC — sent letters to all possibly effected prisoners, urging them to seek blood tests for possible contagion. The general UConn Health notice stated “The transmission of HIV or Hepatitis B is unlikely. There is still concern for the transmission of Hepatitis C.”
CDOC spokesperson Karen Martucci placed the blame on the negligence of a single UConn Health nurse while denying allegations by the prisoners of system-wide problems with the health care provider. The nurse, who was working a double shift at the time of the incident, has since resigned. An investigation of the incident was jointly conducted by ...
On June 20, 2019, a two-justice majority on a Nevada court of appeals panel reversed and remanded a district court’s dismissal of a state prisoner’s civil rights complaint over the removal of good time credits. The ruling is unpublished.
Darryl E. Gholson sued the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) and certain of its employees, alleging they took 48 days of his statutory good-time extra credits without notice or a hearing. He earned those credits as a work-crew member from January to June of 2015. Those credits were taken from him in October 2015, 30 days before his scheduled release, causing the release to be rescheduled.
NDOC filed a dismissal motion asserting Gholson had not made any personal allegations against NDOC officials while arguing he was not employed during his entire sentence and his release date was readjusted for that reason and also because he did not earn the amount of good time credits he potentially could have.
Thus, since he had no right to good time or employment, no liberty interest was involved.
Gholson did not file an opposition motion.
In the absence of such a motion the district court dismissed the suit holding “there was no ...
On April 4, 2020, a three-judge court in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California denied a motion seeking an order requiring the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to immediately release specific categories of inmates due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision came 5 days after California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he would grant early release to 3,500 prisoners to try to check the spread of coronavirus among prisoners and employees at the state’s 35 prisons. Lawyers representing the governor told the court that Newsom was already taking “extraordinary and unprecedented protective measures” to fight COVID-19.
“He feels like he’s in a Nazi Germany death camp,” the daughter of one prisoner told the Los Angeles Times. “They basically locked them all in the ‘sick’ dorm and are only taking guys out with a high fever…An inmate in his dorm of 150 men just tested positive, so they put his entire dorm on lockdown. He can’t get bandages he needs for open sores from an autoimmune disease. He’s 72 and due out in August.”
The Emergency Motion to Modify Population Reduction Order, filed on March 25, 2020 by attorneys for the ...
On June 6, 2019 the Supreme Court of Arkansas denied a prisoner’s appeal of a circuit court’s refusal to issue a preliminary injunction regarding Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) policies as applied to his free exercise claims as a follower of the Nation of Islam (NOI).
Malik Muntaqim filed suit against the ADC for denying him issues of NOI’s periodical, The Final Call, between 2013 and 2015 and because the ADC refuses to allow him to lead services specific to his faith. He brought these claims under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). However, for the purposes of the appeal, the Court only addressed the First Amendment claims because Muntaqim failed to ask for findings from the circuit court regarding the RLUIPA claims.
After his first interlocutory appeal, the circuit court held a hearing to determine whether he could meet the two-factor test for a preliminary injunction. Those factors are “(1) whether irreparable harm will result in the absence of an injunction and (2) whether the moving party has demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits.” See Muntaqim v. Hobbs, 2017 Ark. ...
by Dale Chappell
In a rare move, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana on January 3, 2020 granted default judgment in favor of a prisoner who sued Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, after prison staff and the Indiana Attorney General’s (AG) Office “blatantly” lied to the Court and refused to turn over evidence that exposed their falsities.
The prisoner, Phillip Littler, who acted pro se for much of the lawsuit, sued Wabash Valley guards for the use of excessive force committed on December 27, 2015. On that day, they shot him in the face with a pepper-ball gun and sprayed him with pepper spray when he refused to submit to a strip search, which he said was a ruse to humiliate him. He suffered a head injury, including a possible broken nose.
In response to Littler’s lawsuit, the AG Office represented prison staff and moved for summary judgment, arguing that Littler’s claims had no basis and that there were no material facts in dispute that would warrant further action by the Court.
In support of the summary judgment motion, the State offered sworn statements by guards that Littler’s claims were not only baseless, but that the guards ...
by Emily Widra and Peter Wagner, originally published April 10, 2020 at the Prison Policy Initiative website
Since the Prison Policy Initiative’s first coronavirus briefing at the beginning of March, the organization has been tracking how federal, state, and local officials have responded to the threat of COVID-19 in the criminal justice system. A number of jurisdictions have taken quick and laudable actions to protect the most vulnerable justice-involved people, including reducing the number of arrests and bookings, releasing people held pretrial, reducing admissions to state prisons, and suspending medical copays in most states. This article assessing the state of preparation in the state prison systems for the pandemic was released on April 10. Some of the details in particular states will have changed by the time it appears in print, but the overall thrust that state prison systems wasted critical time will remain true–Editor.
Many local jails and pretrial systems are taking action to reduce their populations in advance of the COVID-19 pandemic, but state prison systems are not, raising the question: Are state prisons prepared to handle a pandemic within their walls? We set out to survey prison systems on the capacity of their health facilities, their plansfor any necessary ...
After he lost work and was unable to pay a fine, Robert Wayne Johnson was sentenced to the Keller Neshoba Regional Correctional Facility (KNRCF) in rural Kemper County, Mississippi, on November 16, 2017. The father of five had struggled with mental health problems, including two suicide attempts. Though his sentence was just two days long, he was still in jail 54 days later, when he hanged himself with his shoelaces and died on January 8, 2018.
On September 30, 2019, his widow, LaToya Johnson, filed suit against Kemper County, the Kemper County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO), and several correctional officers. Her suit alleges that her husband was unlawfully held past his release date, was not provided with mental health care, and was not properly monitored after he became suicidal.
According to his widow, Johnson — a Meridian resident who had worked at the city library, East Mississippi State Hospital and Tower Automotive — had been institutionalized at least twice. The suit alleges that his mental health issues were ignored by KNRCF employees, in spite of his history and repeated warnings from other prisoners that Johnson had been tying shoelaces around his neck in the days prior to his ...
On March 20, 2020, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the cancellation of lawyer-client visits at the Metropolitan Detention Center-Brooklyn (MDC). The court urged a quick resolution in the district court with a mediator to deal with access to counsel during “ongoing and future emergencies, including the COVID-19 outbreak.”
MDC houses more than 1,600 persons, most of whom are pretrial detainees. It is operated by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). In January 2019, a series of events resulted in limited access to MDC detainees by the Federal Defenders of New York.
First, visitation was canceled for seven days due to a government shutdown. Then, a fire at the facility resulted in visit cancellation from January 28 through February 2. Four hours after visitation was restored on February 3, it was canceled due to a confrontation with BOP officials and persons in MDC’s lobby. BOP “stonewall[ed]” the Federal Defenders’ requests to seek information on conditions within MDC and the reasons for the visitation cancellation.
The Federal Defenders filed suit on February 4, 2019, alleging the suspension of attorney visitation violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and the Sixth Amendment. The ...
The provision of medical care is an expensive proposition regardless of whether a citizen or prisoner is in need of care. Tight budgets have pushed many jails and prisons to turn to prison profiteers to provide medical and mental health care to detainees and prisoners. When privatization is adopted, it is hailed as a means to save taxpayer dollars by setting a cap on the costs and moving liability to the private vendor.
The human suffering that medical privatization causes is highlighted only when there is a huge settlement or someone dies. As PLN has chronicled over nearly three decades, privatization is wrought with understaffing, a lack of basic treatment, and the avoidance of referrals to specialists or an outside hospital. For private vendors, every dollar saved is another dollar in profits. Lawsuits and the few cases that result in a settlement are just the cost of doing business.
An August 2019 undisclosed settlement in a lawsuit at Kentucky’s Grant County Detention Center (GCDC) is a perfect case study in all that is wrong with privatized prison medical care. In 2009, GCDC entered into an agreement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to remedy unconstitutional conditions ...
The Illinois Supreme Court on December 19, 2019 held that settlement agreements reached by private contractors, if directly related to the services they provide, are public record. It said the plain language of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), when viewed in light of legislative intent, showed that it was created to ensure that governmental entities could not avoid disclosure obligations by contracting services to private companies.
Illinois Times journalist Bruce Rushton filed a FOIA request in August 2015 concerning a wrongful death settlement between the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) and the estate of Alfonso Franco, who died due to the substandard care of his contracted healthcare provider, Wexford Health Sources, Inc. IDOC agreed with Rushton and requested the documents be turned over by Wexford, which refused. Rushton and the Illinois Times filed suit in April 2017.
The lower tribunal granted summary judgment to Wexford, agreeing that the document did not directly relate to the governmental service the company performed, and that section 2.20 of FOIA exempted private contractor settlement agreements. (See PLN, June 2019.)
Rushton and the Times appealed, and the appellate court reversed the summary judgment. Wexford then petitioned the Illinois Supreme Court for ...
by Scott Grammer
In 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that jail detainees who are under no voting disability — which essentially means that they have not yet been convicted of a felony and lost their right to vote — must be allowed the opportunity to vote pursuant to the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. But Arizona, and in particular Maricopa County, still doesn’t get it. Of the approximately 14,000 people in Arizona jails, about 60% are eligible to vote.
In 2020, a coalition composed of voting advocates, public defenders and people who were previously incarcerated, are trying to ensure that these people are allowed to vote, starting with Maricopa County.
During the 2008 election cycle, Joe Watson was in jail in Maricopa County but had not yet been convicted of a felony. When he asked guards for a ballot, he was laughed at. In a March 16, 2020 story, The Intercept quotes Watson as saying, “They just ignored me. There was nothing I could do. I was just denied my right to vote.”
During the 2018 midterms, Yonas Kahsai was in jail in Maricopa County and still legally able to vote. While in jail, he asked for ...
Most of America’s 2.3 million prisoners cannot practice social distancing. They are packed into overcrowded facilities, living, sleeping and bathing within feet—sometimes inches—of each other. What’s more, they often lack sufficient basics, including soap, warm water and clean towels, let alone hand sanitizer. Unless radical action is taken, many thousands of people inside—staff and prisoners alike—will needlessly die.
The radical action required—the only one that can prevent massive unnecessary loss of life—is reducing the population of jails and prisons. Efforts in this direction have begun in many jurisdictions. But the steps taken so far are not nearly enough, not by a long shot. All public officials with release authority— including sheriffs, prosecutors, judges, corrections officials, parole boards, and governors— need to step up and immediately find ways to release as many people as they can before the virus strikes. In doing so, they have the opportunity to save thousands of lives and to begin the long overdue process of ending the costly, inhumane and counterproductive project of mass incarceration.
In the 1970s, the size of the American prisoner population was roughly on par with other Western democracies. Yet starting in the 1980s, the U.S. became the world’s ...
by Ed Lyon
The year 2019 was a busy one for a grand jury in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Indictments were handed down for seven guards, a former associate warden and a former director of the county’s jail, located in Cleveland. They are among 11 current and former jail staffers to face criminal charges following a probe into prisoner mistreatment and corruption by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, with the aid of agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The cases date back to 2018, during which eight prisoners died in the severely overcrowded lockup. An investigation released that year by the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) found the jail’s conditions inhumane, with a pattern of abusive behavior by guards including:
• withholding food as punishment,
• excessive use of force, and
• threatening those giving interviews to jail investigators.
As a result, one Cleveland judge has refused to sentence any non-violent convicts to serve time there.
Here’s a timeline of events and the main players:
February 2018: Two Guards Charged in Detainee Beating
Former guard John Wilson was charged with felonious assault on detainee Joshua Castleberry, who suffered a broken nose and lost several teeth in an encounter with ...
The September 14, 2019, death of prisoner Albert Dorsey, 60, at the Hardeman County Correctional Facility (HCCF), a private prison operated by Tennessee-based CoreCivic, was initially called a suicide by the medical examiner. The prison’s report said he died alone in his cell that “no one else had access” to.
However, when his autopsy was released in January 2020 it revealed he had been killed. That makes him the fourth prisoner murdered at HCCF since October 2014.
The murders at HCCF, a minimum-to-medium security prison, account for 30% of the prisoner homicides reported in Tennessee over the past five years. Yet HCCF holds only 9% of the state’s prisoner population.
CoreCivic operates three other prisons in the state: Whiteville Correctional Facility, South Central Correctional Facility, and Trousdale-Turner Correctional Center. All are minimum-to-medium security except for South Central, which is minimum-toclose, meaning some prisoners there require “heightened supervision.”
Minimum-security prisoners require the least supervision while medium-security prisoners may have “minor disciplinary issues,” according to the Tennessee Department of Correction.
About 35% of Tennessee’s prisoners are incarcerated at one of the prisons operated by CoreCivic. Yet 63% of the state’s prison homicides occur there. When asked about the disparity ...
Despite a reduction in the Texas prisoner population, state prisons are spending record amounts on prisoner health care. The reason is not an improvement in the health care afforded prisoners. Pending lawsuits allege inadequate health care — especially for Texas prisoners infected with the Hepatitis C virus. Instead, the driving factor in rising prisoner health-care costs is an aging prison population that is costing more to care for.
In FY 2019, Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) prisoner health care costs exceeded $750 million. That is a 53% increase over FY 2012, when the costs were less than $500 million.
During that period, the TDCJ prisoner population declined by 3%, but the number of prisoners over the age of 54 increased by 65%. The prisoners who are 55 and older make up one-eighth of the prisoner population, but account for almost a half of TDCJ’s hospitalization costs. This increasingly costly older prisoner population swamped cost-saving measures, such as increasing the use of telemedicine and using discounted medications implemented by TDCJ’s health-care providers.
The reason the Texas prisoner population is aging is not because more older people are being prosecuted for crimes in Texas. Rather, it is because ...
In March 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that federal Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents will begin collecting DNA samples for criminal investigation from immigrants designated for detention in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities, including children and those legally seeking asylum.
During the Obama administration, Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., granted an exemption to the DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005 for immigrant detainees. Under the law, genetic samples are required to be collected from anyone who is arrested, facing charges or convicted for a crime anywhere in the country – including non-citizens detained at the border. But at the time, Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – the agency that includes both ICE and CBP – successfully argued that she lacked sufficient manpower to sample the number of detainees, which fluctuated between 337,000 and 556,000 annually during the Obama administration.
Now the Trump administration is reversing that agreement, even though the number of detainees spiked to almost 860,000 last year. Attorney General William P. Barr argues that the exemption is outdated because testing is now faster and cheaper. He also worries that criminals who have had no contact ...
Back in 2011, the United States Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) performed an anonymous survey at the Minnesota Department of Corrections’ (MDOC) Shakopee women’s prison.
The survey’s results showed that Shakopee was among the worst prisons in the nation for sexual misconduct. Faced with that BJS data, warden Tracy Beltz took the action she considered necessary and appropriate to protect her charges from sexual assault, exploitation and misconduct.
She instituted a strict, zero tolerance, no-touching policy for all prisoners. This ban included such innocent gestures as handshakes, high fives and fist bumps. As a result, prisoners touching one another became disciplinary violations for any contact, even a handshake or pat on the back to comfort someone who has just returned from the chaplain’s office and having been told that a friend or family member has passed away.
When guards allege a disciplinary infraction, prisoners are routinely placed in administrative segregation until the outcome of the case is decided. And at Shakopee, as so often happens in prisons, many guards become overzealous and overstated, inflated and even provoked disciplinary case allegations.
For eight years, MDOC steadfastly denied any such policy existed. But concerted efforts and ...
In recent years many states have made changes to their criminal codes in an effort to reduce their prison populations. Those amendments, however, are rarely retroactive and leave those already imprisoned to serve out lengthy sentences that are no longer imposed.
Alabama is one state that exemplifies the injustice of leaving in place sentences from the “tough on crime” era. In 2018, it eliminated sentences of mandatory life in prison without parole for drug trafficking based on quantities, making life with the possibility of parole the maximum sentence.
There are 1,532 Alabama prisoners serving life without parole. Of those, 534 are for crimes other than murder or capital murder, and 20 more have non-parolable life sentences for drug trafficking. The lowering of the maximum sentences has no effect for those prisoners under the statutes.
That fact has not dissuaded some determined lawyers. “The Eighth Amendment hangs its hat on these evolving standards of what is proportional punishment, and we could say now that understanding has changed,” said attorney Courtney Cross, Director of the Domestic Violence Law Clinic at the University of Alabama.
Cross took on the case of Geneva Cooley, who was serving a non-parolable life ...
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) placed a request for bids on its website in March 2020 for 45,000 N95 protective face masks for 26 of its enforcement and removal operation field offices. This came at a time that the nation’s frontline healthcare workers are experiencing a mass shortage of such personal protective equipment (PPE).
On March 19, the first day of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s “shelter-in-place” order, ICE agents raided immigrant communities in the Los Angeles area while wearing N95 protective masks. Critics said this placed healthcare officials at risk by depriving them of needed PPE — and also violated state regulations ordering everyone to remain in place except to perform essential activities necessary for survival.
A stay-at-home order is not only to prevent those who do not have COVID-19 from acquiring it, but also to prevent those who do have it from spreading it.
Reporters for The Guardian, Miriam Lopez and Seth Holmes, reported that the raids separated families and other loved ones when support could be critical. They also said the raids increased the potential for spreading the virus in overcrowded detention sites while creating a distrust among the public concerning the necessity to ...
Clarence Delaney, Jr. was granted $40 per day for 88 days of unlawful confinement by the State of New York, receiving a total payment of $3,250. He also was able to recover his 42 USC § 1983 filing fee, in a state Court of Claims ruling on May 22, 2019.
Delaney was sentenced on January 6, 2017 to two to four years of parole supervision after completing a 90-day program at Willard Drug Treatment Center. This judgment was recorded in the remarks section at the bottom of Delaney’s Uniform Sentence and Commitment Order. He was to be transferred to Willard within 10 days of arrival to the Department of Corrections reception center and no more than 30 days after the judgment was entered.
Delaney arrived at Downstate Correctional Facility (Downstate) on February 20, 2017, with a post-sentencing classification form that did not mention Willard or his parole supervision. It stated only that Delaney was sentenced to the two to four years with a conditional release date of January 28, 2019. The box marked “Execute as a sentence of parole supervision” was not checked.
Delaney immediately notified Downstate of the error and continued through the grievance procedure when ...
In October 2019, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed into law a 2020 budget that allowed prisoners to seek college financial aid through a state program that had long been out-of-bounds to prisoners.
The Tuition Incentive Program (TIP) reimburses tuition expenses for Medicaid-eligible students at participating private and public colleges. The 2020 budget allocates $64.3 million to TIP, administered by the Michigan Department of Treasury (DOT).
“It makes a statement saying that education changes lives,” said Terrell Blount, a program associate for the Vera Institute of Justice. “It reduces recidivism. Everyone agrees people should be held accountable for what they’ve done or committed, but that doesn’t mean that they should be deprived and have their educational opportunity taken away from them.”
Blount said the expansion of eligibility is a “big win” for Michigan, which is now among 18 states that allows aid to imprisoned students.
According to Kyle Kaminski, of the Michigan Department of Corrections, “there are currently four Michigan colleges that offer credit-bearing postsecondary education courses in Michigan prisons: Jackson College, Mott Community College, Delta Community College and Calvin College.
“In the winter semester 2019, Kaminski said, 770 incarcerated students participated in for-credit classes, not including correspondence ...
A man from New York City was held three years in a Rikers Island jail before a Brooklyn jury acquitted him October 1, 2019 of a knife-point armed robbery.
Mike Colon, 51, was just eight months out of prison when four police cars slid up beside him as he was walking to a Burger King. With drawn guns, police jumped out of their cars and arrested him.
The victim had been robbed of his cellphone and other items about 20 minutes earlier. Police had used an app to trace the cellphone to Colon. But Colon was not in possession of the cellphone when he was arrested.
His attorney noted that Colon was underneath an elevated train station when he was arrested and theorized that the robber and cellphone were on the platform above him at the time.
Prosecutors countered that stolen credit cards were strewn near the arrest site and that Colon had a distinctive knife in his pocket like the one used in the robbery.
The prosecution’s case fell apart during trial. NYPD Officer Raymond Lewis, a key prosecution witness, contradicted himself several times and admitted to having been previously disciplined for fixing traffic tickets. Then ...
After the Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC) received $17.7 million from the state legislature’s Joint Committee on Capital Review to repair defective cell locks at a maximum-security prison, a whistleblower revealed that paperwork showing the repairs had been made was falsified, The Arizona Republic reported in December 2019.
Now the DOC is planning to use $4.1 million in prisoner welfare funds to pay for the repairs. Those funds are generated by fees charged prisoners when they make phone calls or use a tablet computer or video kiosk. The DOC receives between $8 million and $9 million for the fund annually, of which $500,000 was already being transferred to a “building renewal” fund.
“We’re taking funds that are supposed to go towards furthering inmates’ opportunities and we’re fixing facilities problems with it,” said Joint Committee member Rep. Randy Friese.
As previously reported in PLN (September 2019, p. 24), the DOC has been under increasing pressure to repair faulty locks at the Lewis Prison in Buckeye since April 2019, when leaked surveillance videos showed prisoners who had opened their own cells ambushing guards.
The DOC initially took disciplinary action against Sgt. Gabriela Contreras and four other guards, whom it ...
by David M. Reutter
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear issued an executive order that restored the voting rights of over 140,000 convicted felons. The order was signed just days after Beshear was sworn in in December 2019, and it upheld a campaign promise.
“My faith teaches me to treat others with dignity and respect. My faith also teaches forgiveness,” Beshears said during his inaugural speech. Those reasons are why he signed “an executive order restoring voting rights to over a hundred thousand men and women who have done wrong in the past but are doing right now. They deserve to participate in our great democracy.”
This is not the first time an executive order has been signed to restore Kentuckians’ voting rights. Just before he left office in 2015, Beshear’s father, former Gov. Steve Beshear, issued an order restoring voting rights to people who had felony convictions that were not classified as “violent offenses,” sexual crimes or election-related bribery.
That order lasted only a few days. Just days after succeeding Steve Beshear, Governor Matt Bevin suspended the order. “While I have been a vocal supporter of the restoration of rights, it is an issue that must be addressed through the legislature ...
A prisoner advocacy group in April began urging residents to call Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb and the state Department of Corrections (DOC) Commissioner Robert Carter to demand the release of nonviolent prisoners, the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions amid the COVID-19 health threat, one of many such groups springing up around the country.
Advocates in the group, IDOCWatch, include Emily Bernard, a healthcare administrator, and her daughter Jasmine Lovelace, a law student at Indiana University. Bernard said the public is under the incorrect perception that medical treatment in prison is free, but the reality is that prisoners must make a payment to the healthcare provider. IDOCWatch is advocating for health care on request without a charged co-pay for the elderly, the vulnerable and all immuno-compromised prisoners
IDOCWatch co-founder Nick Greven noted that prisoners in other states are already being released due to the virus. California, New York and Ohio are states that have released prisoners to reduce the risk of infection and spreading.
The organization’s Facebook page states that Indiana is the most overcrowded prison system in the nation and a “potential disaster zone for widespread outbreak.”
On April, Indystar.com reported that “five prisoners who ...
David Bailey was a reckless and violent 17-year-old when he shot and killed two people outside a Washington, D.C. night club. He was convicted of second-degree murder and received a sentence of 35 years to life.
According to The Appeal, “both of Bailey’s parents struggled with heroin dependency, according to court documents, and he was born opioid-dependent, which resulted in long-term symptoms. His father was violent toward his mother and as an infant he was passed between homes. He dropped out of school at age 13 and latched onto older children and adults who spent their days on the streets. He began selling marijuana and crack cocaine.”
During 26 years in prison, Bailey was written up for only one argument and one physical fight. Otherwise, his record was basically clean. He learned to read and write on his own, and obtained his GED. Programs aimed at rehabilitation were part of his day-to-day life while locked up, and he did his best to provide emotional and financial support to his two daughters.
James Zeigler, Bailey’s attorney, said he “had taken anger management courses, reformed his erratic behavior, and turned his life around.”
Citing modern neuroscience, the Supreme ...
The Arizona federal district court overseeing the Stipulation in a class action that challenged the medical care within the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC) denied an emergency motion to require ADOC to develop a comprehensive COVID-19 plan. The court also issued an order on performance measure (PM) protocols.
Class counsel made a prison tour on March 11-12, 2020 and found it did not appear ADOC had a plan in place to address the COVID-19 crisis. Their concerns led them to file an emergency motion. It requested the court to require ADOC to develop and implement a plan to address patient education; screening, testing and housing of class members; provision of hygiene and cleaning supplies; and coordination with community hospitals and among ADOC’s 10 prisons.
“Plaintiffs’ concerns are well founded. Defendants’ past performance, coupled with an unprecedented public health crisis, does not inspire confidence in their ability to meet this moment,” the court said.
ADOC was found to be non-compliant and sanctioned by the court “for their contemptuous refusal to meaningfully address” performance measures in the Stipulation. The court, however, found that did not empower it “to exercise general control over matters such as prisoner education or ...
"They’re literally leaving us in here to die,” said a prisoner live-streaming on Facebook in a plea for help April 3, 2020.
The now-viral online video captures the desperation of prisoners during the coronavirus pandemic. The 31-year-old, wearing a stocking cap and surgical mask, is shown inside the Federal Correction Institution in Elkton, Ohio, where at least three prisoners had died from COVID-19 and at least another 20 were in the hospital. Prisoners are seen and heard coughing and wheezing while in beds a short distance apart.
“Shit, you know I don’t even know how to start this,” he begins. “Shit was all good like a couple days ago, right? So all of a sudden, out of the blue, fucking everybody just fucking dying and getting sick and shit. Like, this shit serious as fuck. Like, they literally leaving us in here to die.”
“People shouldn’t have to die like this,” he says.
The prisoner, who VICE News identified as Aaron DeShawn Campbell, reportedly used a contraband cellphone to speak on Facebook Live for about 20 minutes. The account was named “Ace Sanchez.”
“He says a prison nurse recently told him ‘half the unit is about to die,’” VICE News ...
Current and former prisoners at Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, California, filed a class action lawsuit on November 18, 2019 against the county, Sheriff Gregory Ahern, and Aramark Correctional Services for violating a California prison labor law, the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and the Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Represented by attorney Dan Siegel, eight named plaintiffs contend their unpaid kitchen jobs amounted to slave labor. The county contracts with Aramark, a $16.2 billion private enterprise, to provide meals for the county’s jail populations at $94.5 million a year.
“The work plaintiffs performed was not a part of daily housekeeping duties in the jail’s personal and communal living areas,” reads the complaint. “Rather, it was forced labor for the profit of Aramark.”
The Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, California, uses prisoner labor in its industrial kitchen to prepare meals for Aramark. The kitchen also prepares meals for Aramark’s contracted services with Amador and San Joaquin counties. The suit alleges that the company “receives an economic windfall as a result of the uncompensated labor of prisoners confined in Santa Rita Jail.”
“Santa Rita and therefore the county are stealing the wages that have been earned ...
Open prison is unthinkable today in the United States, though in Scandinavia such institutions are heralded as models of civility and rehabilitation. The U.S. experimented with open prisons back in 1941, which proved there were better ways to rehabilitate and reduce recidivism. Unfortunately, those lessons were short-lived.
In California, then as now, maximum-security institutions like San Quentin and Folsom were dens of tension and violence. In 1935, the California State Legislature wanted to try something different. A veteran penologist named Kenyon J. Scudder was enlisted to open a new prison at Chino. It would become the California Institution for Men, and the only one of its kind.
Scudder laid down some conditions. He wanted control over the selection and training of staff, and over how much freedom the prisoners would be permitted while incarcerated. To avoid punitive mindsets, he refused to hire staff who had previously worked within the system.
Instead, his jailers (“supervisors”) would have college degrees. They would carry no batons or guns, and weapons would only be a means of last resort. Prisoners would be able to choose what to wear, which jobs they preferred and what to study. Numbers identifying prisoners would ...
A jury awarded a prisoner brutally beaten at the Baltimore City Detention Center $25 million, after guards allegedly worked in concert with a gang and arranged a beating as retaliation for complaints filed by a detainee awaiting trial.
The beating left Daquan Wallace in a coma for two months, and now he has to use a wheelchair and cannot talk. The incident happened in October 2014, after three Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) guards cooperated with members of the Black Guerilla Family gang to set up the brutal beating. Wallace’s lawsuit claimed that the beating was in retaliation for complaints by his mother that jailers weren’t protecting her son from the gang.
Wallace’s mother told jail staff numerous times that her son was routinely beaten for refusing to join the gang, the lawsuit said. In response, staff allegedly moved him to a unit with the gang members, with more unmonitored areas to allow the beating.
Wallace claimed that when everyone went to dinner one night, guards allowed gang members to stay back with their cell doors unlocked, against policy. Within minutes, Wallace was beaten by the gang. Wallace’s cellmate returned to find him unconscious ...
Following a letter from the ACLU of Georgia, the Chatham County sheriff rescinded a jail policy that banned detainees from receiving books and magazines from outside sources. The ACLU still took issue with a revised policy that limits the number of publications detainees can possess.
The sheriff implemented a policy that prohibited detainees from receiving “books, magazines or other publications, by subscription, or directly from the publisher, a family member or any other person.” The policy took effect on March 3, 2019. It made books and magazines available only by means of a book cart, and detainees could only check out one book or magazine each week.
“We have never before encountered a policy that so completely restricts detained persons’ access to books and publications,” the ACLU wrote in an April 10, 2019, letter to Chatham County Sheriff John T. Wilcher. “The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment encompasses the right of people to receive books in jail. As one federal appeals court has recognized, ‘Freedom of speech is not merely freedom to speak; it is also freedom to read. Forbid a person to read and you shut him out of the marketplace ...
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the grant of summary judgement alleging prison officials lacked a penological interest in extending a prisoner’s duration in a dry cell. On January 15, 2020, it affirmed the grant of judgment on the claim related to the conditions of that confinement.
Pennsylvania prisoner Briaheen Thomas was receiving a visit on May 31, 2015, at SCI-Rockview when a guard saw his friend hand him a bag of M&Ms. He ate one and quickly took a drink of soda. The guard believed Thomas had ingested contraband, so he handcuffed him and immediately removed him from the visit room.
Thomas was placed in a “dry cell,” which is a cell that has been drained of water and its water sources are turned off. To expedite his release from the dry cell, Thomas was offered and accepted laxatives. Over the next four days, he had 12 bowel movements. No evidence of contraband was found and an X-ray of his abdomen revealed a clear gastrointestinal tract.
On the fourth day in the dry cell, the prison’s Program Review Committee (PRC) decided to continue Thomas’ dry cell confinement for five more days.
After he exhausted ...
A pilot program started by a nonprofit in Alameda County, California seeks to meet an acute need for shelter faced by a group that doesn’t get much positive attention: recently released prisoners. Run by former prosecutor Alex Busansky, the nonprofit is called Impact Justice (IJ), and its program, the Homecoming Project (HP), pays people with a spare bedroom $25 a day to let a recently released prisoner call it home.
Due to the stigma of their criminal past, parolees and those fresh out of prison find it especially difficult to obtain shelter. Nationwide, this group is 10 times more likely to become homeless than citizens who have never been imprisoned. Yet a home address is necessary to obtain a driver’s license, and it is also important in obtaining a job – vital components of a successful reintegration into society.
Busansky, whose nonprofit’s mission statement is affecting justice reforms, studied this problem and wondered if a program like Airbnb might offer a viable solution. From that germ of an idea, HP was born in 2018.
Coordinating the program is former prisoner Terah Lawyer. Her primary job is to pair a prisoner with a compatible person who has a ...
With four deaths in five months at Virginia’s Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women (FCCW), a federal district court began moving its focus from care for individual prisoners to systematic change in July 2019.
The Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) was party to a 2016 settlement in a lawsuit alleging the provision of medical care at FCCW violated prisoners’ constitutional rights. (Scott et al v. Clarke, U.S.D.C. (W.D. VA), case No. 3:12-cv-00036.) The agreement required VDOC to meet 22 health-care standards.
VDOC failed to fulfill its end of the deal and by January 2019 twelve prisoners had died while in FCCW’s custody since the settlement was approved. “Some women have died along the way,” said federal district Judge Norman K. Moon. VDOC vowed to hire 78 more nurses at that hearing.
That order is significant but not enough, said Shannon Ellis, an attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center. “The judge’s order did not specify what level of qualifications the nurses need to have, and a historic problem at Fluvanna and at prisons across Virginia is very underqualified medical professionals,” Ellis said.
Margaret Breslau, head of the Coalition for Justice in Blacksburg, related a story ...
A $120,000 settlement was reached on November 5, 2019 in a lawsuit alleging officials at Minnesota’s Ramsey County Jail applied discriminatory treatment to a Muslim woman. The settlement with the county also provides for a change in policies related to Muslim women’s use of head coverings.
Aida Shyef Al-Kadi turned herself in on an outstanding warrant for missing a traffic court hearing. Her August 12, 2013 arrest resulted in a brief booking into the Hennepin County Adult Detention Center.
When arrested, Al-Kadi was wearing a hijab, which covered her hair, ears and neck, and a long dress. Her attire was in holding with her sincere religious belief in “promoting decency and modesty in interactions between members of the opposite sex.”
Hennepin County officials treated Al-Kadi “with respect and dignity when she removed her hijab and was not forced to do so in front of any male officers or detainees.” The next day, she was transported to the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center (RCADC).
Immediately upon entry, she was singled out from other detainees. A guard pat searched Al-Kadi and requested that she take off her “burka,” which is culturally and physically different from the hijab and ...
California: On March 28, 2020, death row prisoner Lonnie Franklin Jr., 67, aka “Grim Sleeper,” was found unresponsive in his San Quentin cell. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Terry Thornton told reporters, “There were no signs of trauma. They don’t know why he died.” The Marin County coroner’s office will perform an autopsy on Franklin, who was convicted in May 2016 on 10 counts of murder and one count of attempted murder for deaths in the Los Angeles area from 1985 to 2007. Franklin was arrested in 2010, after familial DNA from his son in a DNA database was similar to genetic evidence in several unsolved LA murders. Franklin got his nickname because of the apparent lapse in activity between 1988 and 2002. The only known survivor was attacked in 1988. After his arrest, police released 180 of the hundreds of photos found in Franklin’s home, in hopes that the public could help identify victims. A police officer posed as a busboy in a restaurant to get a DNA sample from Franklin. Governor Gavin Newsom halted executions in 2019.
China: A human rights defense attorney at the Fengrui Law Firm in Beijing, Wang Quanzhang was arrested ...