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Prison Legal News: June, 2020

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Volume 31, Number 6

In this issue:

  1. These Sheriffs Release Sick Inmates to Avoid Paying Their Hospital Bills (p 1)
  2. North Carolina Prisoner Escapes to Flee Coronavirus Death Sentence (p 9)
  3. From the Editor (p 10)
  4. Company Hawking Prison Phone Monitoring Technology as Way to Discover Coronavirus Infections (p 11)
  5. Thinking in a Pandemic: Let the People Go (p 12)
  6. BOP Loses Fight Against Orders to Release Ohio Prisoners Threatened By Coronavirus (p 15)
  7. Staying Alive: A Doctor’s Guide for Prisoners on Staying Safe During COVID-19 Pandemic (p 16)
  8. ‘Prisons Are No Place for a Pandemic:’ Advocates Fight to Free Their Loved Ones (p 18)
  9. Former Missouri Jail Prisoner Ordered to Repay $1.3 Million Settlement for Faking Injuries But Whereabouts Unknown (p 20)
  10. GEO Jail in New York City Sees Rapid Spread of Coronavirus (p 20)
  11. Coronavirus Kills Michigan Prisoner Days Before His Release After Serving 44 Years (p 21)
  12. Prison Postcards: Official Accounts Differ from Prisoner Accounts as the Pandemic Spreads (p 22)
  13. Interview: David Fathi of ACLU’s National Prison Project on Criminal Justice Reform in the Age of Coronavirus (p 26)
  14. Coronavirus Pandemic Could Vastly Reduce Prison Voting (p 28)
  15. Eleventh Circuit Says COVID-19-Wracked Miami Jail Can’t Be Forced to Give Prisoners Soap, Masks (p 28)
  16. Ohio Prisoner with Coronavirus Released Without Use of Preventative Measures; Cases Inside Soaring (p 29)
  17. Large Scale Releases and Public Safety (p 30)
  18. Alabama Reopens Ancient Prison to Quarantine COVID-19 Prisoners (p 31)
  19. CoreCivic Detention Center Demanded Detainees Sign Liability Release to Receive Masks (p 32)
  20. COVID-19 Cases Soar at Federal Prisons in California; Half at Lompoc Have the Coronavirus (p 32)
  21. Unsealed Documents Expose Treatment Failures at San Diego Jail (p 34)
  22. Federal Court Slams Michigan Jail for Bungling COVID-19 Pandemic, Demands Names of Vulnerable Prisoners for Release (p 34)
  23. Prison Officials Limit Prisoner Communications During COVID-19 Crisis (p 36)
  24. Rhode Island Corrections’ Union President Fined for Excessive Political Donations (p 36)
  25. Silence: The Bureau of Prisons’ Pathetic Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic (p 38)
  26. Hawaii Institutes Non-Contact Visits at Another Prison to Control Contraband (p 41)
  27. Number of California Prisoners Falling; Lifer Population Declines Slightly as Well (p 42)
  28. New York Judge Orders Release of 18 Rikers Island Detainees Due to COVID-19 Risk (p 42)
  29. Kansas County Jails People for Unpaid Medical Bills (p 43)
  30. $200,000 Awarded to Missouri Prison Guard Over Sexual Harassment, Retaliation (p 43)
  31. New ACLU Study Says COVID-19 Deaths in Prison Will Soar Without More Releases, Fewer Arrests (p 44)
  32. Deplorable Conditions at South Carolina Prisons Prompt Call for UN Intervention (p 44)
  33. Louisiana Governor’s Inaction Prevents Release of Grandmother Hospitalized with COVID-19 (p 45)
  34. Report: Oaks of Justice Pitch to Help Prisoners Return Home Appears Shady (p 46)
  35. First Prisoners and Staff, Including a Warden, Dead from COVID-19 in Louisiana; Hundreds Infected (p 46)
  36. Florida Continues to Use Slave Labor During Coronavirus Outbreak (p 47)
  37. Interview: Don Specter of the Prison Law Office on California Prisons, COVID-19 and Governor Newsom (p 48)
  38. Report: Tennessee Prison Population Climbs, Bucks Nationwide Trend (p 49)
  39. Mississippi Jail to Stay Open Despite Massive “Financial Trouble” (p 50)
  40. Audit: Massachusetts Department of Corrections Failed to Provide Timely Health Care or Reentry Services (p 50)
  41. Nebraska Prison Employee Labor Agreement Contains Unusual Provision (p 52)
  42. Sandoval County, New Mexico Settles Public Records Lawsuit with Human Rights Defense Center (p 52)
  43. Coronavirus Crisis: Wisconsin Releases Around 1,600 Prisoners, an ‘Inconsequential’ Number (p 53)
  44. New York Federal Guard Sentenced to 25 Years for Sexually Abusing Prisoners (p 53)
  45. California Prison Reform Results in Housing Challenges for Former Prisoners (p 54)
  46. Sign the Papers! Alabama Prisoners Get Masks for COVID-19 but With Strings Attached (p 54)
  47. HRDC Settles California Jail Censorship Suit for $143,500, Consent Decree (p 55)
  48. More Than 200 Convicted of Corruption at Baltimore Department of Corrections; More Charges Announced (p 56)
  49. Innocence Project Working to Prove Arkansas Executed Innocent Man (p 56)
  50. $500,000 Settlement for Colorado Prisoner Beaten During Seizure (p 57)
  51. Tenth Circuit Reinstates Colorado Prisoner’s Claim that Requires BOP to Release Him from Imprisonment for Marijuana Possession (p 58)
  52. $500,000 Settlement From Psychiatrist for Failing to Treat New Mexico Prisoner Who Committed Suicide (p 58)
  53. Florida Prison Officials Ordered to Not Retaliate Against Prisoner (p 59)
  54. Nevada Supreme Court Holds Firefighting Prisoner Cannot Challenge Worker’s Compensation Based on Prison Pay (p 60)
  55. $2,800 Verdict As Jury Finds Pennsylvania Jail Discriminated Against Women Prisoners in Reentry Center (p 60)
  56. Tornado Rips Through South Carolina, Displacing Federal Prisoners (p 61)
  57. Gallup Poll Shows Growing Opposition to Death Penalty (p 62)
  58. Federal Judge Keeps Heat on Florida to Implement Amendment 4 Voter Restoration for Ex-Felons (p 62)
  59. News in Brief (p 63)

These Sheriffs Release Sick Inmates to Avoid Paying Their Hospital Bills

This article was produced in partnership with, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network. ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. This article was originally published on September 30, 2019.

By Connor Sheets, ProPublica

Michael Tidwell’s blood sugar reading was at least 15 times his normal level when sheriff’s deputies took him to the hospital. But before they loaded the inmate into the back of a car, deputies propped up his slumping body and handed him a pen so he could sign a release from the Washington County Jail.

“I could barely stand up or keep my eyes open,” he recalled.

Tidwell said that he didn’t know what he was signing at the time, and that he lost consciousness a short time later. The consequences of his signature only became clear in the weeks that followed the 2013 medical emergency.

By signing the document, which freed him on bond from the small jail in south Alabama, Tidwell had in essence agreed that the Washington County Sheriff’s Office would not be responsible for his medical costs, which included the two days he spent in a diabetic coma in intensive care at Springhill Medical Center ...

North Carolina Prisoner Escapes to Flee Coronavirus Death Sentence

Fearing his existing medical condition could transform his sentence to death if he caught COVID-19, federal prisoner Richard Cephas elected to escape. After nearly a month on the run, Cephas turned himself in on April 20, 2020, resulting in a new charge for the escape.

Cephas was a prisoner at the Federal Prison Complex in Butner, North Carolina. He worked as an orderly, so he was aware the prison lacked soap for prisoners to wash their hands frequently. Prisoners were told they should use soap they purchased. Gloves and masks were not issued until five days after Cephas escaped. The prison’s layout makes social distancing virtually impossible.

Cephas says he suffers from neutropenia, a medical condition that makes him more susceptible to COVID-19 because his body struggles to create sufficient white blood cells to combat infections. Butner officials reported the prison’s first positive coronavirus case on March 26, 2020. As the numbers grew and Cephas received no reply to requests to be released on home confinement, he became more fearful for his life.

“I take ownership of having to serve my time,” said Cephas, who had 18 months to serve on a 66-month sentence on a ...

From the Editor

It seems like an eternity since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the U.S. in January of this year and the first deaths began occurring in March. Now, each day brings grim news for American prisoners. Everyone I know in the prisoner rights community is working long, hard hours to get prisoners released or ensure some measure of safety to them at every level: state, local, federal, immigration and juvenile. 

PLN is providing coverage about what is happening at each level. There is such a huge amount of news and information on COVID-19 and detention facilities that simply reviewing it is a major challenge.

I have been reporting on prison and jail news for a little over 30 years now. Ken Silverstein, PLN’s managing editor, brings around 35 years of news reporting experience tothe table. Neither one of us can recall the media so relentlessly focused on a single topic as with COVID-19. We’re simply not finding much as we scour news wires for criminal justice stories that areunrelated to COVID-19. 

We are publishing stories that were in our article pipeline before the pandemic hit as we think it is important to remember that pandemic or not, the beatings, medical ...

Company Hawking Prison Phone Monitoring Technology as Way to Discover Coronavirus Infections

A Los Angeles-based company has been selling to jails and prison systems phone-monitoring technology that searches for keywords, touting it as a way to discover COVID-19 infections early.

LEO Technologies developed the Verus system, which has already been deployed in at least 26 facilities in 11 states, including the Georgia prison system, at least seven Alabama county jails, and at least one facility in California. Some use LEO for non-COVID-19-related purposes.

The prisons implement Verus by asking their prison phone service provider to share call data with LEO, which routes the data though Amazon Web Services (AWS), the cloud-computing division of Amazon. AWS sends LEO transcripts and the transcripts are read for keywords such as “coughing,” “sick,” “sneezing” or “COVID-19” by LEO staff. Could anything go wrong?

“Obviously, people talking about COVID-19 on the phone does not necessarily mean they are infected with COVID-19. The whole world is talking about the virus right now,” said Shilpi Agarwal, a senior attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. “It’s not at all clear that any of the monitoring and analysis would be accurate; we know that voice recognition technology is deeply biased. Moreover, we also know ...

Thinking in a Pandemic: Let the People Go

States should release from prison far more than the very small percentage of low-level, nonviolent offenders they hold.

by Joseph Margulies, Boston Review, April 20, 2020

COVID-19 spreads where people congregate. With rare exception, it preys on the weakest among us—the elderly, the sick, the infirm—which is why it is so dangerous in prisons. A disproportionate number of inmates are elderly, unwell, or both, and places of detention are often overcrowded and always unsanitary. Several of the largest outbreaks in the country are in prisons.

The public health threat is not unique to these facilities; those in nursing homes, for instance, face a similar risk. But prisons and jails are unique in one respect: the state forcibly brings people to these sites, holds them against their will, and deprives them of the ability to take the precautions recommended by public health officials. This obligates the state, morally and legally, to mitigate the risk. As the Supreme Court has warned, “having stripped [prisoners] of virtually every means of self-protection and foreclosed their access to outside aid, the government and its officials are not free to let the state of nature take its course.”

Yet the official response to the virus ...

BOP Loses Fight Against Orders to Release Ohio Prisoners Threatened By Coronavirus

Noting a “significant level of infection” of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) at Elkton, Ohio, U.S. Attorney General William Barr directed federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director Michael Carvajal on April 3, 2020 to “move with dispatch” to save vulnerable prisoners at the low-security prison just outside Cleveland, using “appropriate transfers to home confinement.”

But BOP failed to comply, according to a class-action habeas corpus petition filed April 13, 2020, by the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

BOP fought back, citing a “danger to the community” if the ACLU’s petition was granted by arguing that the releases would “over-burden police” on the street because the ex-prisoners would be “mingling with their former criminal associates” and “return to their former ways.”

In a hearing on the case April 22, 2020, Federal Judge James Gwin rejected the argument, saying that BOP “might as well be arguing against the release of any inmate, at any time, for any reason, because even in the best of circumstances the country’s criminal justice system has no way, short of life imprisonment, of ensuring former prisoners do ...

Staying Alive: A Doctor’s Guide for Prisoners on Staying Safe During COVID-19 Pandemic

We are entering a new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Efforts to prevent infection by closing all but essential businesses, staying at home, physical distancing, wearing face masks, frequent hand washing, no face touching, and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces have begun to be effective where they have been seriously implemented by states and citizens. Hospitalizations and deaths have declined substantially in hard hit states with strong prevention orders like New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois and California.

Meanwhile, the pandemic is spreading unevenly across the nation. In some states, nursing homes, meat processing plants and prisons have had large clusters of cases. Such clusters are even occurring in regions that have not yet seen widespread community transmission.

COVID-19 disease is continuing to spread to additional urban, suburban, and rural areas across the country. It is not as aggressive as the initial outbreaks in New York and New Jersey, but geographic spread, numbers of cases, and deaths are continuing to rise. The World Health Organization is predicting that it will be with us for a long time to come.

Now that more virus testing for diagnosis is finally becoming available, there is ...

‘Prisons Are No Place for a Pandemic:’ Advocates Fight to Free Their Loved Ones

Women of color are fearful about the Covid-19 outbreak within the system

by Victoria Law, ZORA by Medium (

Theresa is currently isolating alone in her Harlem apartment. Because Theresa has asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), thus making her more vulnerable to Covid-19, her adult daughters bring her groceries and other necessities from the outside world.

Theresa’s 65-year-old husband Morris is serving his 15th year of a 40-year prison sentence at Green Haven Correctional Facility, one of New York’s 52 state prisons. He too has underlying health issues — asthma, diabetes, and kidney problems. There are 18 people at Green Haven who have tested positive for the coronavirus. Unlike Theresa, Morris cannot self-isolate or practice social distancing. (Theresa asked that the couple only be identified by their first names to protect their privacy and prevent staff retaliation.)

Every day, Morris must leave his cell and walk to the prison’s medical unit where a nurse dispenses his medications. Sometimes medical staff wear masks and gloves; sometimes they do not. For two weeks, Morris chose to forego his medications rather than risk the coronavirus exposure until Theresa convinced him to take that risk.

But that’s not the only ...

Former Missouri Jail Prisoner Ordered to Repay $1.3 Million Settlement for Faking Injuries But Whereabouts Unknown

On October 17, 2019 a former Missouri prisoner accused of faking injuries while in Boone County Jail was ordered to repay almost $1.3 million from a settlement in which he had accused deputies of using excessive force.

In October 2015, after an altercation in the dinner line at the jail, Derrick Houston was restrained by four deputies and placed in solitary. When Houston felt neck pain and tingling discomfort throughout his body, his requests for medical attention were repeatedly denied by the jailers. Five days later, after his condition worsened, he was finally taken to the hospital where doctors discovered that Houston had a fractured vertebrae in his neck.

Houston filed suit in July 2016, claiming that the lack of medical attention caused permanent paralysis from the waist down. While confined to a wheelchair, Houston testified at a deposition in March 2017 that he wanted to stand up and walk, saying, “I wish I could. I really wish I could man.”

Boone County Sheriff Dewayne Casey denied that his deputies were responsible. Carey stated that jailers reported Houston fell down in solitary; he also noted that Houston had a history of resisting commands and had spent time in ...

GEO Jail in New York City Sees Rapid Spread of Coronavirus

A GEO Group-run jail in Queens, New York City, saw coronavirus cases surge in the facility in May 2020.

The 222-bed medium/minimum-security federal Queens Detention Facility, New York City’s only privately run jail, reported 25 prisoners and 10 staff members tested positive for the virus, according to the Queens Daily Eagle in an April 15, 2020 report. It cited a “court-ordered report” issued April 15 by GEO Group.

Meanwhile, at the nearby state-run Queensboro Correctional Facility, Leonard Carter, 60, died on April 14 of complications of COVID-19 just six weeks from his scheduled release date. His passing renewed calls to release more prisoners from the jail.

 “It is a horrifying and preventable tragedy that Leonard Carter passed away from COVID-19 a mere six weeks from his release date and having been already granted parole,” said Katie Schaffer, director of advocacy and organizing at the Center for Community Alternatives. “For those within a year of release and those — like Mr. Carter — who have already been granted parole, there is no legitimate argument for making people complete these sentences, only a hunger for maximum punishment that will increase the death toll of this pandemic.”

GEO Group, which reported $2.48 billion in revenue last year, ...

Coronavirus Kills Michigan Prisoner Days Before His Release After Serving 44 Years

William Garrison was 16 years old when he was arrested and eventually convicted of first-degree murder. He would spend the next 44 years of his life behind bars.

On April 13, 2020, Garrison’s cellmate called for help after Garrison was gasping for air. Macomb Correctional Facility staff had him transferred to the hospital where he died.

Chris Gautz, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections, stated that a post-mortem autopsy confirmed Garrison was infected with COVID-19.

Garrison was originally sentenced to life in prison. In 2012, the Supreme Court issued a decision striking down mandatory life sentences for juveniles. Later, in 2016, that law was ruled to be retroactive, paving the way for Garrison to be resentenced.

Due to the resentencing, Garrison was eligible for parole in February but rejected it. He opted to serve seven more months, which would eliminate parole.

Garrison changed his mind when COVID-19 hit the prison system. Prison officials issued Garrison immediate parole, but he was not released due to a Michigan law.

The law states prisons must notify prosecutors and any registered victims in order to release prisoners. The law requires prison officials to wait 28 days before releasing prisoners, ...

Prison Postcards: Official Accounts Differ from Prisoner Accounts as the Pandemic Spreads

Ever since the coronavirus epidemic exploded in the United States earlier this year, government officials have reassured the public that they had things tightly under control. On February 26, before anyone in the country had died from COVID-19, President Donald Trump confidently stated that only 15 Americans had tested positive and “within a couple of days [that number] is going to be down to close to zero.”

Here we are – on May 18, as PLN is nearing its press date – and we have more than 1.5 million confirmed cases and over 90,000 dead. We don’t know if those numbers are entirely accurate, but the media is able to cover the pandemic and the public is generally well informed about the total number of cases, and where they are rising and falling.

Inside prisons and jails, the situation is quite different. Prisons, along with nursing homes and meatpacking plants, have emerged as the primary epicenters of the disease. A study by the ACLU has estimated that if prisons and jails don’t get the situation under control, the death toll in the United States could double. Even during normal times, press access to prisoners is limited and, ...

Interview: David Fathi of ACLU’s National Prison Project on Criminal Justice Reform in the Age of Coronavirus

David Fathi is Director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project, which brings challenges to conditions of confinement in prisons, jails, and other detention facilities, and works to end the policies that have given the United States the highest incarceration rate in the world. He worked as a staff lawyer at the Project for more than ten years before becoming director in 2010, and has special expertise in challenging “supermax” prisons

What are the main goals of the ACLU’s National Prison Project?

We have three principal goals. First, to roll back the laws and policies that have given the United States the highest incarceration rate in the world. Second, to ensure that incarcerated people are held in conditions that comply with domestic and international law, and meet minimal standards of health, safety, and human dignity. And finally, to combat the extreme racial inequities that infect every level of the criminal legal system.

What are the main barriers you face in seeking to reduce the country’s high level of incarceration? Has public opinion moved in your favor over the past decade or so? What about political opinion? Everyone seems to recognize that we have too many ...

Coronavirus Pandemic Could Vastly Reduce Prison Voting

In the months prior to the COVID-19 pandemic being declared, voting rights activists were gaining momentum in helping those in jail register and arrange to cast ballots. In the aftermath of the pandemic’s outbreak, activists now worry that eligible voters in prisons and jails will be prevented from voting.

The United States Supreme Court has declared that persons in jail have a right to vote so long as they are not convicted felons or otherwise ineligible to vote under state law. There are about 470,000 people detained in America’s jails, making them a large bloc of voters.

Jailed voters “have the most direct vantage of how elected officials — judges, prosecutors, sheriffs — are actually doing their jobs,” said Dana Paikowsky, a jail voting expert at the Campaign Legal Center. “From the perspective of democratic accountability, this is one of the most important segments of our electorate.”

Several jurisdictions recognize this and have acted to assure jailed voters are able to have their vote counted. Typically, such voters cast absentee ballots. Jurisdictions like Chicago have taken a more direct approach.

A law that became effective in January 2020 requires Cook County to set up a polling ...

Eleventh Circuit Says COVID-19-Wracked Miami Jail Can’t Be Forced to Give Prisoners Soap, Masks

On May 5, 2020, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals stayed a Florida district court’s preliminary injunction that required officials at Miami’s Metro West Detention Center (Metro West) to employ numerous safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and imposed extensive reporting requirements.

Metro West is one of three jails run by the Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department (MDCR). It is also the largest jail in Florida.

In early March 2020, MDCR took precautions against COVID-19. It canceled visits, screened arrestees, detainees and staff, and advised staff on protective equipment use and sanitation practices. Social distancing efforts included staggering dorm bunks by requiring detainees to sleep head-to-toe and instructing staff to encourage detainees to practice social distancing.

Seven detainees at Metro West filed a class-action lawsuit on April 5, 2020. They challenged their confinement conditions and sought habeas corpus relief for the named plaintiffs and a “medically vulnerable” subclass of detainees. The suit alleged Metro West did not have enough soap or towels to wash their hands properly, waited days for medical attention, were “denied basic hygiene supplies” like laundry detergent and cleaning materials, and were forced to sleep only 2 feet apart.

The district ...

Ohio Prisoner with Coronavirus Released Without Use of Preventative Measures; Cases Inside Soaring

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) is being criticized for its mishandling of circumstances surrounding a prisoner’s release during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kevin Cherry was released from Marion Correctional Institution (MCI) April 11, 2020. Three days later, he tested positive for COVID-19. Cherry said guards at MCI did not even wear protective face masks or gloves until just a few days before his release. He said he was denied testing prior to his release. He was afraid of infecting his family and self-quarantined upon release and had himself tested.

Since then, ODRC officials have tested the entire prison population, and MCI now stands as one of the nation’s highest prison hotbeds for COVID-19, with 1,950 prisoners – 78% of the population — and 154 staff members testing positive. As of mid-April, one prisoner and one staffer had died of the virus.

ODRC provides staffers financial means to quarantine themselves within a hotel if they test positive for the virus but do not provide any assistance for prisoners being released who have tested positive.

Governor Mike DeWine said he was concerned for staff and their families. ODRC spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said prisoners were provided with information ...

Large Scale Releases and Public Safety

Can governments safely release hundreds or thousands of people from prison?

We offer 14 historical examples to show that, in fact, they already have.

To protect the American public from COVID-19, schools have closed, non-essential stores have been shuttered, people with desk jobs have started working from home, and public gatherings have been prohibited. But the criminal justice system continues to hum along as though nothing has changed: Most prisons and many jails have done very little to reduce the population density that puts both incarcerated people and staff at grave risk.

To justify their lack of action, DOC directors, governors, sheriffs, and district attorneys imply that saving the lives of people behind bars is not worth the inevitable public safety cost of releasing them. This talking point is as old as time. It’s also out of step with history.

Large-scale releases have been common throughout U.S. and international history for a variety of legal, political and health reasons. Below is a partial and non-exhaustive summary of some notable examples in U.S. and international history. (These examples were originally collected for a different project with Leah Sakala in 2014.)

If the places where ...

Alabama Reopens Ancient Prison to Quarantine COVID-19 Prisoners

by Ed Lyon

Prisons are obvious contagion grounds for COVID-19, and conditions in Alabama are among the worst in the nation. Now, it appears, those conditions could get worse even as the coronavirus problem is rapidly spreading at prisons in Alabama and across the country.

On April 16, 2020 the Montgomery Advertiser reported that prisoners were being used to move beds into the ancient Draper Correctional Facility (DCF). DCF was built in 1938, making it 82 years old this year. It was toured by U.S. Justice Department investigators in 2017, during which the stench of raw sewage and toxic fumes the prisoners endured daily made one of the investigators physically ill.

ADOC announced the DCF’s closure a month later. An engineering study from that year estimated it would take at least $30 million to repair and renovate DCF up to minimum standards.

Prior to publication the newspaper queried ADOC, asking if it was planning to resurrect any of its closed prisons as part of its operational plans relating to the coronavirus. On April 8, 2020 ADOC spokeswoman Samantha Banks denied there were any such plans or intentions by ADOC.

In an abrupt turnabout eight days later, ADOC announced it had, ...

CoreCivic Detention Center Demanded Detainees Sign Liability Release to Receive Masks

by David M. Reutter

Detainees at CoreCivic’s Otay Mesa Detention Center (OMDC) in California were enthusiastic when told they would be issued face masks to protect themselves from COVID-19. The mood changed quickly when employees conditioned that issuance on the signing of a contract that held CoreCivic “harmless” from wearing the mask.

OMDC holds immigration detainees for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and criminal defendants for the U.S. Marshals Service. As of April 11, 2020, at least 16 detainees at the facility had tested positive for COVID-19. One of those was a woman in “A” pod, which holds immigration detainees.

The women in that pod had been anxious to protect themselves, and made handmade face masks with rubber bands, panty-liners, and cut-up T-shirts. The detainees complained they lacked personal protective equipment and soap to wash their hands, so when they learned they were being issued facemasks, it was seen as good news.

Then, however, CoreCivic’s profitability took precedence over protecting the detainees from a deadly disease. Prior to passing out the masks, the unit manager handed out contracts written in English, telling the women they must sign before they were issued a mask.

The document included a section saying ...

COVID-19 Cases Soar at Federal Prisons in California; Half at Lompoc Have the Coronavirus

As of May 12, 2020, the number of COVID-19 infections had exploded at a trio of federal prisons in southern California, placing one at the top of all 142 facilities operated by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).

Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Lompoc, located in Santa Barbara County, holds 1,162 low-security prisoners, of whom 911 had tested positive for the novel coronavirus that causes the disease. That was the highest number of cases in any BOP prison. Another 16 positive cases have also been reported among prison staff. So far just 25 prisoners and 3 staff members had developed symptoms and recovered. None had died.

But at the adjacent U.S. Penitentiary (USP) Lompoc, there had been two prisoner deaths. The medium-security facility holds 1,044 prisoners, of which 114 had tested positive for coronavirus, along with 22 staff members.

The virus had also hit FCI Terminal Island in San Pedro in Los Angeles County. Of the 1,042 low-security prisoners there, 702 had tested positive for the virus, along with 15 staff members. There have been seven deaths, all among prisoners.

Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, whose staff began testing for the virus at FCI Terminal ...

Unsealed Documents Expose Treatment Failures at San Diego Jail

by Anthony W. Accurso

In response to a motion filed by the ACLU, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California unsealed documents in June 2019 related to the failures of San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and its mental health provider, Correctional Physicians Medical Group (CPMG).

San Diego County operates seven jails, which regularly hold around 5,200 prisoners, about one-third of whom are on some form of psychotropic medication to manage a serious condition. This makes the jail system the largest provider of mental health services in the region. “There’s something wrong with that,” said Sheriff Bill Gore in a 2017 interview. “That shouldn’t be the case.”

The Sheriff’s Department awarded a five-year contract worth $21 million to CPMG, but canceled it in January 2017 after just 27 months. The company had been formed by Steven Mannis, an emergency room doctor who later admitted in a deposition that he had virtually no experience in psychiatry.

According to court filings, “No one was in charge of training” at CPMG. “The only alleged ‘training’ occurred at ‘Journal Club,’” a voluntary quarterly performance review for CPMG providers.

The unsealed documents relate to the death of Rubin Nunez in ...

Federal Court Slams Michigan Jail for Bungling COVID-19 Pandemic, Demands Names of Vulnerable Prisoners for Release

On April 17, 2020, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the Oakland County Jail due to its mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Plaintiffs filed a class action complaint against the Oakland County Jail seeking immediate release of all current and future Oakland County Jail detainees and three distinct subclasses:

• All pre-trial defendants;

• All post-conviction detainees; and

• All medically vulnerable defendants and detainees (i.e., those 50 or older or who otherwise have an underlying medical condition which would place them at particular risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19.)

Plaintiffs also sought an emergency motion requiring Oakland County Jail to undertake specific measures to improve hygiene and safety at the jail.

Judge Linda V. Parker issued the TRO. As PLN was going to press, attorneys for the plaintiffs were pushing for the release of medically vulnerable prisoners and an order guaranteeing that strict safety measures were put in place for all who remained at the jail.

On May 20, Judge Parker ordered the jail to provide a list of medically vulnerable inmates and their criminal histories soshe could determine who should ...

Prison Officials Limit Prisoner Communications During COVID-19 Crisis

Prisoners struggling to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic — often without masks, sufficient cleaning supplies or the ability to social distance — are crying for help to the outside world by any means possible. Some prison authorities have responded by cutting off their access to phones and email.

At the San Diego County Jail, prisoners held up a homemade sign that said, “We Don’t Deserve 2 Die,” during a prisoner’s video chat. Three of those prisoners were sent to solitary confinement shortly thereafter.

In the Pine Prairie, Louisiana ICE detention center, contact between prisoners and members of the media via video chat included inmate complaints about the lack of protective equipment and the possibility of conflict between prisoners and staff. The result? Future video contacts were canceled by the institution.

On the federal level, those suspected of being infected with COVID-19 are often quarantined in special housing or solitary, during which time they are often without access to anything but irregularly delivered mail from the U.S. Post Office.

At the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), California facilities at Terminal Island and Lompoc, where over half of the prisoners tested positive when the Los Angeles County Board of Health ...

Rhode Island Corrections’ Union President Fined for Excessive Political Donations

The Rhode Island Board of Elections voted in December 2019 to fine correctional officers’ union president Richard Ferruccio for allowing the union’s Political Action Committee (PAC) to exceed the state’s limit on annual campaign contributions for three successive years. Ferruccio agreed to pay the $1,020 penalty after the board voted to approve the fine.

The PAC exceeded the state’s $25,000 cap by $4,075 in 2017, $1,350 in 2018 and $4,775 through the first three quarters of 2019, according to the board’s findings.

Traditionally, the union has a vocal role in proceedings at the State House, particularly on criminal justice reform issues, including its recent opposition to the plan to close the high-security unit at the Adult Correctional Institution while a new unit is built. The PAC is also known to issue political endorsements during election season.

During 2019, the PAC donated $1,000 apiece to Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, Congressman James Langevin, Treasurer Seth Magaziner, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio.

According to Richard Hahn, the PAC’s treasurer, the union has started new policies ensuring that it complies with state law, and he apologized for the past violations.

In other actions, the board fined ...

Silence: The Bureau of Prisons’ Pathetic Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The silence is deafening. Over a week in mid-May, Prison Legal News tried to contact public information officers at seven federal prisons seeking an answer to a straightforward question: What are you doing to protect prisoners at your facility from COVID-19?

The answer?

As of press time, not a single public information officer responded. This includes public information officers from FCI Elkton, FCI Terminal Island, FCI Butner Medium I, FMC Fort Worth, FCI Oakdale I, FCI Milan, and USP Lompoc. These facilities may sound familiar because they were the top seven federal prisons in terms of prisoner deaths due to COVID-19.

To be fair, PLN left voicemails with only three public information officers. No one picked up the phone at the other four. That’s right: At institutions with inmate populations ranging from 660 to 1,955, no one bothered to answer the phone.

Families Fear for their Loved Ones

“It’s as if they are just locking them in their cells and making them fend for themselves,” said the mother of a federal prisoner who asked not to be identified due to potential retaliation against her son. “I’m just so scared. I don’t want him to die.”

The same ...

Hawaii Institutes Non-Contact Visits at Another Prison to Control Contraband

Hawaii’s Department of Public Safety (DPS) has now banned contact visits at three of the state’s correctional institutions: Oahu Correctional Community Center (OCCC), Maui Correctional Community Center (MCCC), and Halawa Correctional Facility (HFC).

The only way families and friends of those incarcerated there can see their loved ones is if they sit behind thick Plexiglass screens and speak by telephone. DPS said the purpose of banning contact visits was to prevent the introduction of contraband into the institutions.

MCCC is the latest of Hawaii’s prisons to ban contact visits, beginning in June 2019. HCF has had them banned since 2014 and OCCC since October 2016.

Contraband has been defined by the DPS as those items not allowed by prison policy, the most common being cellphones, cigarettes, and narcotics. “Contraband is an ongoing battle for correctional facilities across the nation,” stated DPS spokeswoman Toni Schwartz. “Implementation of the non-contact visits resulted in the elimination of a major contraband pathway.” Schwartz stated that she could not discuss other contraband pathways for safety and security reasons.

Yet studies have shown that contact visits help reinforce family and community ties and reduce recidivism. Minnesota Department of Corrections conducted a study that ...

Number of California Prisoners Falling; Lifer Population Declines Slightly as Well

As of April 1, 2020, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) counted just over 122,000 prisoners in custody, more than 25 percent lower than its 2006 peak, continuing a downward trend that began after a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that capped the state prison system’s population at 137.5 percent of capacity. The current population represents 130.6 percent of capacity.

To reduce its prisoner population, the state has made increasing use of diversionary programs for nonviolent offenders and reclassifying other prisoners so they can serve sentences in county jails.

CDCR’s Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) has also revamped its policies and procedures, making the process more transparent as it implements a 2008 state Supreme Court ruling that parole decisions need not be based solely on the seriousness of the crime. “I’m not sure that there are really any other places in life where somebody is scrutinized so much in such a public way by people they don’t know,” observes BPH Executive Officer Jennifer Shaffer.

During the first 11 months of 2019, BPH granted release to 1,074 California prisoners serving an indefinite term. That still left CDCR with over 38,000 “lifers,” a number higher than the ...

New York Judge Orders Release of 18 Rikers Island Detainees Due to COVID-19 Risk

On April 6, 2020, New York Supreme Court Judge Mark Dwyer ordered the release of 18 pre-trial detainees held at Rikers Island in response to a lawsuit brought by attorneys Lauren Gottesman and Mary Lynne Werlwas of the Legal Aid Society, and Robert Briere. The lawyers had sought the release of 32 detainees they said were at high risk of contracting COVID-19.

In considering the case, the Court relied upon traditional due process black letter law. Citing among other cases Brown v. Plata, 563 U.S. 493, 508-09 (2011), Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832-33 (1994), and Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976), the Court asserted that jail officials are required to “provide effective medical care for inmates.” While these cases concerned convicted prisoners, the Court stated that the “Due Process protections of the 5th and 14th Amendments and … the New York Constitution provide comparable protections to pretrial inmates.”

The Court held that the COVID-19 pandemic posed “a deadly threat to inmates,” and its presence at the prison equates to an “unsafe, life-threatening condition” endangering detainees’ “reasonable safety.” Based on this, “and the absence of a viable alternative, a court ...

Kansas County Jails People for Unpaid Medical Bills

by Douglas Ankney

A county in rural Kansas is jailing people over unpaid medical debt, CBS News reported in February 2020. The county is Coffeyville, Kansas, which has a poverty rate twice the national average.

It’s also the place where attorneys such as Michael Hassenplug have built a successful law practice assisting medical providers to collect debt owed by their neighbors.

Coffeyville has a policy that requires people with unpaid medical bills to appear in court every three months. In what is termed a “medical exam,” the debtors must swear they are too poor to pay. The policy was put in place through Hassenplug’s recommendation to the local judge. “I’m just doing my job,” Hassenplug insisted. “They want the money collected, and I’m trying to do my job as best I can by following the law.”

But the policy also provides for the arrest of anyone who misses two debtor’s exams. Bail is set at $500, which in most jurisdictions is refunded once the bailee appears in court. But in Coffeyville, it goes to attorneys and to the medical companies.

Tres Biggs’ son has leukemia and his wife suffers from Lyme disease. Working two jobs, he missed two exams. “You ...

$200,000 Awarded to Missouri Prison Guard Over Sexual Harassment, Retaliation

On October 3, 2019, a Missouri jury entered judgment in favor of a former Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) employee who alleged she had suffered workplace sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation. The jury awarded her $200,000 in compensatory damages.

Ana Barrios was hired by the DOC as a probation and parole assistant at the Kansas City Community Release Center in September 2014. A year later, she was promoted to corrections officer and the release center was turned into a minimum-security prison to house prisoners nearing parole. At the same time, it was renamed the Kansas City Re-Entry Center.

Within a year of the renaming, workplace abuse she experienced led her to quit her job.

With the assistance of attorneys Mark Eldon Meyer and Cyril Jerome Wrabec, Barrios filed a lawsuit against the DOC in state court. She alleged the sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation she suffered was “continuous, ongoing, unbroken [and] adopted as a pattern” by the DOC.

Barrios testified that the sexual harassment began within six months of being hired and often centered around the other DOC employees dislike that she was dating a Black man.

For instance, at a celebration of the prison’s name ...

New ACLU Study Says COVID-19 Deaths in Prison Will Soar Without More Releases, Fewer Arrests

An April 22, 2020 report by the American Civil Liberties Union, with the collaboration of researchers from Washington State University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Tennessee, shows that COVID-19 deaths in jails, prisons and the communities where they are located will skyrocket unless there are fewer arrests and more releases of more low-level offenders.

According to the ACLU, “Models projecting total U.S. fatalities to be under 100,000 may be underestimating deaths by almost another 100,000 if we continue to operate jails as usual.”

On May 28, 2020, the total U.S. death toll stood at more than 102,000, lower than some original projections, apparently brought about by extensive lock-downs and stay-at-home orders in many states and municipalities. People have been cautioned to “social-distance,” wear masks and avoid unnecessary travel to avoid spreading the virus. However, those who run America’s over-crowded jails and prisons have not gotten the message.

This potential disaster has come about for a variety of reasons, first of which is that the United States continues to lock up individuals at the world’s highest rate. With 5% of the world’s population, it detains approximately 20% of the globe’s prisoners.

These prisoners are still ...

Deplorable Conditions at South Carolina Prisons Prompt Call for UN Intervention

Despite settling a landmark prisoner civil rights case in 2016, and after a bloody 2018 riot led to a nationwide prisoner work strike that same year, conditions in facilities run by the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDOC) remain so bad that prisoner advocates in late-2019 appealed directly to the United Nations (U.N.) to intervene.

The appeal was delivered October 23, 2019, to U.N. offices in New York, London, Washington, D.C., and Kingston, Jamaica, by the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC). Citing alleged violations by SCDOC of the U.N.’s Mandela Rules – a list of requirements for the ethical treatment of prisoners named after former South African President Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 imprisoned for fighting the country’s Apartheid system of racial segregation and discrimination – the appeal demanded opening sealed cell windows, restoring outdoor recreation and improving nutrition for prisoners, as well as a Special Rapporteur to “investigate the torturous, cruel, and inhumane punishment of prisoners in South Carolina.”

Prisoner rights advocate and writer Jared Ware said the appeal was delivered because IWOC and allied activists groups believed official inaction left “no other path to redress” conditions in SCDOC prisons, which he said “have been specifically ...

Louisiana Governor’s Inaction Prevents Release of Grandmother Hospitalized with COVID-19

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards had yet to act on a July 2019 recommendation by the state Board of Pardons and Parole to grant Gloria Williams’ request for commutation.

Williams is Louisiana’s longest incarcerated prisoner, the last of the three people sent to prison for a robbery committed in 1971. As PLN went to press, she was transferred from Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge where she was in intensive care battling coronavirus to the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women at Hunt.

In 1971, Williams, then 25, along with a 16-year-old girl and an adult man named Philip Harris, entered a grocery store run by Budge Cutrera and his wife in Opelousas. They were armed with a toy gun and intended to rob the place. Cutrera fought back and the teen fatally shot him with a gun Cutrera kept hidden behind the counter. Since then, the woman who shot Cutrera died in prison, Harris was granted commutation in 1987, and Williams at 74 is still serving her sentence.

Williams became involved in prison drama club, Toastmasters, spiritual programs and various self-help programs. She also has counseled many other prisoners into leading more ...

Report: Oaks of Justice Pitch to Help Prisoners Return Home Appears Shady

It’s scarcely news that people incarcerated in federal prison are often desperate for any possible chance to return home. Unfortunately, prisoners aren’t really in a position to verify the legitimacy of assorted offers of shortened sentences, and misinformation is rampant.

On its website, the group Oaks of Justice claims that it can assist federal prisoners in obtaining early release and completing their sentences at home while being monitored by surveillance systems worn on their wrists like a smart watch. According to its website, the wrist monitors track respiration, pulse, and alcohol or drug use.

The company also claims that its program is part of the First Step Act. Oaks of Justice says users of its service must remain within boundaries, a so-called “geo-yard,” set at the time of release.

Company founder Joanne Barefoot Morgan (aka Winnie Joanne Barefoot) has claimed that federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) officials and President Donald Trump support the program, according to a January 2020 report by The Marshall Project. A spokesperson for the BOP said the Bureau has no such deal with the company.

Dolores Wallace’s sister was serving a 3 ½-year sentence in federal prison. She asked Dolores to look into ...

First Prisoners and Staff, Including a Warden, Dead from COVID-19 in Louisiana; Hundreds Infected

Like most prison systems, the Louisiana Department of Corrections (LDOC) has been battling the COVID-19 pandemic in crammed facilities that make for easy transmission of the highly contagious coronavirus. As a consequence, the number of positive tests for the disease within LDOC facilities continues to grow, and it had resulted in at least 10 deaths as PLN went to press.

LDOC reported its first prisoner death on April 18, 2020. The name of the 69-year-old victim was not released, but officials said he had been at the state penitentiary in Angola since 1978, serving a life sentence for first-degree murder. The man, who reportedly requested and agreed to a do-not-resuscitate order, died just three days after being transferred to an outside hospital.

Two other LDOC prisoners also died from COVID-19 in April 2020, including a woman at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women (LCIW), as well as three staff members. Details on the dead prisoners were unavailable from LDOC, but the female prisoner was identified as Dorothy Pierre in a Facebook video posted by other women held at LCIW who are part of a group called Voice of the Experienced (VOTE).

LDOC identified its lost staffers ...

Florida Continues to Use Slave Labor During Coronavirus Outbreak

Florida is one of a handful of states that doesn’t pay prisoners to work, constituting what some consider slave labor. Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) continues to use prison labor during the coronavirus pandemic, despite the obvious risk it poses. 

The Florida Times-Union reported in May that 3,500 prisoners were being used in work squads that service 67 counties in the state. There were 34 work camps across the state, contracted for everything from grounds maintenance to sewage treatment to moving services. Government agencies paid the DOC $2 per prisoner per hour for their labor. The prisoners work in Florida’s unrelenting heat and do not see any of those wages.

Although representatives from the DOC have stated that labor practices have been limited during the pandemic, they have declined to discuss what preventative measures have been taken.

The prisoners live in close-quarter communities and travel to and from work sites on crowded buses. In late May, the state reported more than 53,000 cases of COVID-19 in early April while the DOC website claims over 1,400 cases among prisoners and 261 among staff.

“I mean, this is not safe for the people in prison — or ...

Interview: Don Specter of the Prison Law Office on California Prisons, COVID-19 and Governor Newsom

Don Specter is the executive director of the Berkeley, California-based Prison Law Office, a nonprofit public interest law firm that provides free legal services to adult and juvenile offenders. It has litigated numerous successful institutional reform cases that, among other things, have improved health-care services, guaranteed prisoners with disabilities reasonable accommodations and equal access to prison programs, reduced the use of excessive force, limited racial discrimination and restricted the use of solitary confinement in adult and juvenile correctional systems.

When was the Prison Law Office founded and what is its history?

In 1976, two recent law school graduates started the Prison Law Office in an old shack right outside the gates of San Quentin with a small donation from Catholic Charities. Their focus was to improve the living conditions at San Quentin by providing free legal services to the people confined in that prison. The first cases involved relatively discrete issues on behalf of individuals at San Quentin. As the staff gained more experience and with the pro bono help of large law firms the office began bringing class actions at individual prisons on behalf of people in segregation, on death row and for medical and mental health care. When ...

Report: Tennessee Prison Population Climbs, Bucks Nationwide Trend

Incarceration is not the answer to crime, concludes a December 19, 2019 report by the Tennessee Criminal Justice Investment Task Force (CJITF). “Despite incarcerating more people and spending over $1 billion annually on corrections in the state budget, Tennessee has the fourth highest violent crime rate in the nation and a high recidivism,” the report states. “These trends are especially noteworthy in light of 34 States reducing both their imprisonment and crime rate” between 2008 and 2017.

The CJITF was created by a March 2019 executive order by Gov. Bill Lee. It comprised a diverse body of criminal justice stakeholders from all three branches of government and was tasked with carrying out a comprehensive review of Tennessee’s criminal justice system.

From 1978 to 2008, Tennessee’s prison population exploded by 367%, increasing from under 6,000 prisoners to over 27,000. While the prison population nationwide declined by 7% from 2008 to 2017, Tennessee’s prison population grew by 6%. In 2017, Tennessee incarcerated 429 of every 100,000 citizens, which is 10% higher than the national average. Its female prison population grew by 30%, pushing its female incarceration rate to 53% above the national average.

Since 2009, Tennessee has increased ...

Mississippi Jail to Stay Open Despite Massive “Financial Trouble”

On December 12, 2019, the Board of Supervisors of Mississippi’s Issaquena County granted an eleventh-hour reprieve to the Issaquena County Regional Jail just five days before it was set to close and over 300 prisoners were to be moved. The Mayersville jail is the county’s largest employer, with a staff of 53, according to Sheriff Richard Jones.

In a meeting December 3, 2019, the Board of Supervisors had decided to cease jail operations effective December 17, 2019, saying the facility was costing the county more money than the government was taking in to house prisoners and pay staff. The Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) has a contract to house some prisoners at the jail. As a regional correctional facility, it also accepts overflow prisoners from the jails in neighboring counties. Made with just two weeks notice, though, the announcement that the jail would close left some local officials stunned.

“We’re the county seat, so of course we’re going to feel the impact of it,” said Mayersville Mayor Linda Short, who added that the move would “truly hurt our small community and communities in the surrounding areas, not just Issaquena County but the surrounding Delta.”

She also suggested ...

Audit: Massachusetts Department of Corrections Failed to Provide Timely Health Care or Reentry Services

“Inmates have a right to timely health services while incarcerated, and we all have a vested interest in their successful reentry into society,” Bump said.

She called it “concerning” that MDOC’s “lax oversight” in these two ways “may have negatively affected inmate treatment and rehabilitation.”

Under MDOC policy, each Sick Call Request Form (SCRF) received from a prisoner must be processed within 24 hours on weekdays or 72 hours on weekends.

But from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2018 – the period covered by the audit – MDOC dropped the ball in one out of five cases, with 20% of SCRFs failing to meet that processing time requirement. Of 60 prisoners whose cases were reviewed, there were a total of 297 SCRFs, and 55 of those were processed late from ...

Nebraska Prison Employee Labor Agreement Contains Unusual Provision

On December 27, 2019, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 88, the union that represents Nebraska Department of Corrections (DOC) workers, announced a “Letter of Agreement” that provides for increased worker pay and creates a new career ladder for DOC guards.

The letter contained an unusual provision — that the union must oppose any bill proposed in the Nebraska Legislature related to the “classification and compensation” of DOC guards. Should any such bill pass the Legislature, the agreement becomes null and void.

Like many prison systems throughout the nation, the DOC has struggled with poor pay for guards, resulting in staffing shortages that lead to extended shifts, mandatory overtime and canceled vacations. The poor working conditions stressed guards, causing more of them to quit, and driving a higher turnover rate.

The agreement between the union and the state increases starting pay for corporals and unit caseworkers from $18.44 per hour to $20. Sergeant starting pay rises from $20.60 per hour to $24. The agreement also allows those three groups of workers to receive raises, based upon experience and contingent upon satisfactory work reviews, adding $1 to their hourly wages each year for ...

Sandoval County, New Mexico Settles Public Records Lawsuit with Human Rights Defense Center

Sandoval County, New Mexico on February 24, 2020, settled a public records lawsuit with the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the parent corporation of Prison Legal News, which alleged that the county had refused to provide records that were required to be released under the state’s Public Records Act. As part of the settlement, the county provided the requested records and paid HRDC’s $52,500 in legal fees, but was not required to admit wrongdoing.

HRDC had sought records as part of its ongoing mission to investigate and publicize payouts made by the county to settle lawsuits brought against local law enforcement authorities accused of wrongdoing. Although some records had initially been produced, HRDC alleged that $3,784,704.70 had been paid out from public funds without proper disclosure of the details, as required under state law.

New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act provides that it is the “public policy of this state, that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of public officers and employees .... (and) that to provide persons with such information is an essential function of a representative government.” 

Nonetheless, despite numerous requests, ...

Coronavirus Crisis: Wisconsin Releases Around 1,600 Prisoners, an ‘Inconsequential’ Number

By May 8, 2020, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections had released almost 1,600 prisoners as the coronavirus spread, reports.

 “The vast majority — 1,447 individuals released from March 2 to May 4 — are inmates who had been detained because they violated terms of their probation, parole or extended supervision while being monitored in the community, DOC spokeswoman Anna Neal said. The inmates were being held either in a county jail or DOC’s Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility.”

American Civil Liberties Union Wisconsin staff attorney Timothy Muth called the number of releases so far “inconsequential.”

“It did absolutely nothing to reduce the population of the correctional system,” he told the Wisconsin State Journal. State prisons hold 24,000, while 2,200 are housed in federal facilities and 13,000 in local jails, Prison Policy Initiative reports.

Reducing the prison population would prove beneficial, Muth said, because it would allow social distancing to take place.

Added Ben Turk, volunteer for the nonprofit Forum for Understanding Prisons: “It doesn’t feel like they’re really in emergency mode yet.”

The DOC counters that “Certain Earned Release and parole hearings are the only two powers the department has to release prisoners.”

In April, the ACLU Wisconsin sued, ...

New York Federal Guard Sentenced to 25 Years for Sexually Abusing Prisoners

New York federal judge Kiyo A. Matsumoto on July 31, 2019, sentenced former Bureau of Prisons Lieutenant Eugenio Perez to 25 years in prison. A jury in May 2018 found Perez guilty of six counts of deprivation of civil rights, four counts of aggravated abuse, five counts of sexual abuse in a federal prison, six counts of sexual abuse of a ward, one count of sexual abuse of a ward, and one count of abusive sexual contact.

The charges stem from incidents that occurred between January 2013 and September 2016 at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. Five prisoners testified that Perez lured them into isolated locations, used physical force and intimidation to force the prisoners to engage in sexual acts with him, and used his authority to assure they did not report the abuse.

The victims all gave corroborating statements describing Perez’s genitals, which he nicknamed “horse.” Four of the prisoners testified Perez forced them to perform oral sex.

At his sentencing, Perez, who faced a life sentence, begged for leniency. “I ask for mercy, not just for me but for my family,” Perez said through tears.

The judge, however, teared up when speaking with ...

California Prison Reform Results in Housing Challenges for Former Prisoners

Over 600,000 people are released from prisons across the U.S. each year, and a growing number of reentry providers are prepping to absorb increasing numbers as states reform their systems.

In California, though, as the state implements long-overdue reforms in the criminal justice system, people are being released so fast that existing services are drastically insufficient to meet the needs of this population.

After California was forced by a federal court to confront the crisis of overcrowding in its prisons after the turn of the millennium, the state’s legislature began implementing reforms that have reduced prison populations 25% over the last decade. The three-strikes laws were amended, lifers were allowed to start applying for reduced sentences, and more individuals were made eligible for parole.

While such a reduction in prison populations is certainly welcome, many parolees face significant challenges in obtaining the housing and services that meet their reentry needs. As a stop-gap measure, many recovery residences — formerly “sober living homes” — have been pressed into service as halfway houses for all kinds of parolees.

Crystal Wheeler served 22 years in prison until her release in 2012. She struggled with PTSD resulting from her husband’s ...

Sign the Papers! Alabama Prisoners Get Masks for COVID-19 but With Strings Attached

As the threat of COVID-19 contagion has become tangible to prison populations across the United States, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has implemented risk management and mitigation protocols throughout its prison system.

Among these is the cessation of accepting new prisoners from county jails and transfers except in cases of medical necessity and emergency. During the second half of April, masks were made available to prisoners — but with dubious conditions.

To obtain a mask, the prisoner must sign a two-page form. Ominously printed at the top of the first page is the warning, “Use this mask at your own risk. The ability of this mask to protect its user and the effects of its use on health are unknown. The mask is not guaranteed to be effective against the spread of any illnesses or viruses, including COVID-19 virus.”

The second page of the form provides “mandatory” instructions for mask maintenance. This involves daily cleaning in warm water with detergent or alternatively allowing the prison’s laundry to clean it.

Prisoners report that in most dormitory housing there are not enough sinks to meet everyone’s usual needs, much less adding daily mask maintenance cleaning to the regimen. ...

HRDC Settles California Jail Censorship Suit for $143,500, Consent Decree

On May 13, 2020, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the parent organization of Prison Legal News, settled a federal civil rights action concerning California’s Tehama County Jail censorship of prisoner publications like PLN in violation of the First Amendment.

The complaint, filed February 14, 2020 in the Eastern District of California, Sacramento federal court, alleged that Tehama County and its sheriff, Dave Hencratt, had refused to accept books and publications at the jail unless they were mailed “directly from the publisher” or from online services such as Amazon, and banned books “published or distributed by HRDC and other neutral publishers and distributors other than those listed in Defendants’ Mail Policy.”

The lawsuit noted that “HRDC publishes and distributes books, magazines, and other materials containing news and analysis about prisons, jails and other detention facilities, prisoners’ rights, court rulings, management of prison facilities, prison conditions, and other matters pertaining to the rights and/or interests of incarcerated individuals. HRDC’s publications contain political speech and social commentary, which are core First Amendment rights and are entitled to the highest protection afforded by the United States Constitution.”

HRDC further alleged that there was no legitimate reason for the jail ...

More Than 200 Convicted of Corruption at Baltimore Department of Corrections; More Charges Announced

More than 200 guards, prisoners and civilians have been convicted of corruption at the Baltimore Department of Corrections’ prison system over the last four years. In a major new case revealed in December 2019, then-acting Captain Kevin Hickson and 24 other members of the Baltimore Central Regional Tactical Unit were indicted on 236 criminal charges of violent assault, tampering with and destroying evidence, and falsifying official public documents.

The Unit was investigated in 2016 for a series of incidents involving excessive use of force at several facilities. The Unit was responsible for maintaining order at the Metropolitan Transition Center, the Baltimore Pretrial Facility, the state Corrections Department’s Jail Industries Building, and Baltimore City Booking and Intake Facility.

Prosecutors and prison officials worked together and uncovered a criminal enterprise organized to maintain dominance within the prison system. Prosecutors stated that Hickson and his unit employed “illegal excessive use of force through assaults of inmates, use of threats against inmates, and various retaliatory practices to assure complete compliance with [the tactical team’s] authority, which bolsters [its] overall reputation within the territory and suppresses any dissension and discord among the overall prison population.”

Secretary of Corrections Robert Green said the ...

Innocence Project Working to Prove Arkansas Executed Innocent Man

On January 23, 2020, the family of an Arkansas man who was executed three years earlier, filed a lawsuit to obtain evidence from the scene of the murder for which he was convicted, hoping to finally submit it for DNA testing.

“My family has been unable to rest…knowing that my brother was murdered by the state of Arkansas for a crime we believe he did not commit,” said Patricia Young, the surviving sister of the executed convict, Ledell Lee.

If she succeeds in clearing her dead brother’s name, his will be at least the 368th posthumous exoneration in the U.S., according to the Innocence Project.

Lee was put to death for the February 9, 1993, murder of Debra Reese in Jacksonville, Arkansas. Reese was found in her home, strangled, kicked in the face and bludgeoned to death with a small wooden bat called a “tire thumper,” which are used by truck drivers to beat their vehicle’s tires to make sure they are properly pressurized. Based on the accounts of two eyewitnesses, Lee was arrested about two hours after Reese’s body was discovered.

But at trial, Lee’s jury was presented with weaknesses in the eyewitnesses’ accounts: One ...

$500,000 Settlement for Colorado Prisoner Beaten During Seizure

Colorado prison officials agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging a guard severely beat a prisoner who was experiencing a seizure.

Prisoner Jayson M. Oslund entered the Colorado Department of Corrections for the second time in September 2010. He had a documented history of epilepsy, for which he was given medication to reduce the possibility of seizures. Despite that history, staff at Sterling Correctional Facility (SCF) refused to provide him medication to treat his epilepsy.

Oslund was sent from his food service job assignment on March 7, 2013, because he was feeling ill. Once he returned to his housing area on the second tier, Oslund experienced a seizure. He fell and split his head open and was knocked unconscious. He required five stitches. Later that day, Oslund had a second seizure.

When guard Mitchell Mullen arrived, he grabbed Oslund while he was convulsing and yelled, “Stop resisting.” Mullen then began to slam Oslund’s head into the ground.

Oslund awoke disoriented and dizzy to find himself in an isolation cell. When he asked a guard why he was in segregation, the guard responded, “I don’t have time for you.” Oslund informed him that he could ...

Tenth Circuit Reinstates Colorado Prisoner’s Claim that Requires BOP to Release Him from Imprisonment for Marijuana Possession

On December 16, 2019, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of Colorado federal prisoner Aaron Sandusky’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, thereby remanding the case for further proceedings. The writ claimed that a congressional appropriations rider prohibits the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) within the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) from using its funds to prevent any state from implementing its own laws regarding the “use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.” The implications of this ruling include requiring the DOJ to cease using funds to imprison Sandusky on marijuana-related charges, which would result in his release.

Sandusky was the president of G3 Holistic Inc., a California-based medical marijuana cooperative that grew and sold plants and products. In 2012, he was convicted of conspiracy to manufacture and possess with the intent to distribute both marijuana plants and mixtures containing marijuana. He received two concurrent 120-month federal sentences.

After an unsuccessful appeal in June 2015, Sandusky filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the California sentencing court, seeking to “vacate, set aside, or correct” his sentence, in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The petition claimed ineffective assistance of counsel ...

$500,000 Settlement From Psychiatrist for Failing to Treat New Mexico Prisoner Who Committed Suicide

In November 2019, the family of a New Mexico prisoner who committed suicide while incarcerated at a privately operated prison agreed to a $500,000 settlement against the psychiatrist, Andrew Kowalkowski, who subcontracted with Corizon. Earlier in 2019, the family entered into confidential settlements with the two other defendants in the lawsuit — GEO Group and Corizon.

Michael Mattis, 24, pleaded no contest to residential burglary and entered the New Mexico Department of Corrections (DOC) in 2014. He had no prior criminal history but a known history of mental illness.

After he arrived at the Northeastern New Mexico Detention Facility near Clayton, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and psychotic disorder. According to court documents, psychiatrist Dr. Andrew Kowalkowski had a single video interaction with Mattis, then directed prison staff to closely monitor him, but prescribed him to be taken off of any form of medication.

Later that month, Mattis was transferred to the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility in Santa Rosa. There, prison staff put Mattis in a cell behind a staircase where he could not be closely monitored. Over the ensuing months, his mental health deteriorated.

Kowalkowski scheduled two additional video sessions, but Mattis refused to ...

Florida Prison Officials Ordered to Not Retaliate Against Prisoner

Florida federal district Judge Mark E. Walker entered a protective order to end retaliation against state prisoner Johnny Hill.

The court’s January 28, 2020, order was entered to protect one of the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit challenging the conditions of confinement in Florida’s segregation units. [See PLN, March 2020, p. 47.] Hill is housed in a closed management unit at Santa Rosa Correctional Institution (SRCI). His motion for a protective order alleged that guard Kyle Masters branded him a snitch for suing the prison, physically assaulted him and harassed him.

The alleged retaliation occurred during transport from SRCI to the Northwest Florida Reception Center Annex (NWFRC) for an eye-doctor appointment. Once at NWFRC, “Masters beat Mr. Hill with so much force that Mr. Hill began to urinate blood and experienced pain in his lower back and flank for more than a week after the attack,” the motion for protective order stated.

On the way back to SRCI, Master pulled a gun out of his holster and told Hill in effect, “If you say anything back at Santa Rosa, I can make sure that you have a sudden ‘K2 overdose.’” (K2 overdoses, according to an ...

Nevada Supreme Court Holds Firefighting Prisoner Cannot Challenge Worker’s Compensation Based on Prison Pay

Following his release, a former Nevada Department of Corrections (DOC) prisoner who was injured while working as a firefighter for the Nevada Division of Forestry (NDF) challenged the calculation of his post-release worker’s compensation benefits based on his miniscule prison salary. On December 26, 2019, the Nevada Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of the petition for judicial review challenging the calculation.

While Darrell E. White was participating in a voluntary DOC work program with the NDF fighting fires he fractured a finger stepping off of a “porta potty trailer and hitting his right hand on the bumper of the crew bus.” White filed a worker’s compensation claim, which was accepted by the NDF’s insurance carrier, Cannon Cochran Management Services, Inc. He was released from prison seven months after he was injured.

White notified Cannon Cochran that he had not received adequate medical treatment while incarcerated and wanted to be seen by a medical provider to rehabilitate his finger. The company scheduled an appointment. Following the appointment, White was immediately scheduled for surgery and deemed temporarily disabled for 144 days due to his finger injury.

Cannon Cochran informed White that it had calculated his monthly wages ...

$2,800 Verdict As Jury Finds Pennsylvania Jail Discriminated Against Women Prisoners in Reentry Center

Pennsylvania state court jury found on November 19, 2019 that the Berks County Jail violated the constitutional rights of women by denying them the same access to reentry privileges as men. The jury awarded $2,800 in compensatory damages to the lead plaintiff in the case, Theresa Victory. The court also entered an injunction ordering an end to the discriminatory exclusion of women prisoners.

The class, represented by the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project (PILP) and Dechert LLP, challenged Berks County’s practice of housing incarcerated men in the lowest security “trusty” status in the Community Reentry Center. Women in the same status were imprisoned in cells at the Berks County Jail.

The Community Reentry Center provided greater access to privileges, more freedom of movement, better visitation conditions, and more access to furloughs. The Center had also been assisting men with reentry for nine years, resulting in decreased recidivism.

The goal of the suit was simple. “Our clients simply wanted the same access to furloughs as the men — to see their children, care for their loved ones, and prepare for their return home,” said PILP attorney Matthew W. Feldman.

Rather than provide women with equal opportunities for reentry ...

Tornado Rips Through South Carolina, Displacing Federal Prisoners

A deadly tornado ripping through South Carolina on April 13, 2020 has forced the federal Bureau of Prisons to start moving hundreds of prisoners from FCI Estill.

The prison, located west of Charleston in Hampton County, took a direct hit from the tornado, an EF-4 on the Enhanced Fujita scale with wind speeds of 175 mph. As one resident noted on Facebook: “Razor wire was hanging in the trees miles away from the prison.”

Scott Taylor, a BOP spokesman, stated, “As a result of the extensive damage to the facility and infrastructure, we will begin relocating inmates from FCI Estill.” Taylor said no prisoners or staff were injured.

FCI Estill, at the time the tornado hit, housed 956 prisoners. The prisoners were moved to the maximum-security prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. The prisoners are expected to be in Lewisburg 18 to 24 months.

Lewisburg was recently expected to be a northeastern regional quarantine unit during the coronavirus pandemic. Those plans were scrapped when the beds were needed for the Estill prisoners.

Shane Fausey, president of the Council of Prison Locals 33, said staffing will be a serious problem. The prison recently had 30 staff members moved to prisons ...

Gallup Poll Shows Growing Opposition to Death Penalty

A Gallup poll revealed that 60% of Americans believe that life in prison without parole is a better approach for a murder conviction than the death penalty. The poll was cited in the Death Penalty Information Center’s 2019 year-end report. “The death penalty has now disappeared from whole regions of the country and continues to erode in others,” the DPIC report said.

Killing an innocent person remains a crucial concern. In 2019, three men condemned to death were exonerated, all after decades behind bars. Meanwhile, Domineque Ray was executed in Alabama despite the fact that his conviction was based solely on the testimony of a witness who was delusional and hallucinating when he accused Ray. No physical evidence linked Ray to the crime.

In Texas, Larry Swearingen was executed based on what his attorney referred to as forensic quackery. Eight post-conviction forensic experts contradicted trial testimony and concluded that the victim died while Swearingen was in police custody. “Our courts and public officials too frequently flat out ignore potentially deadly mistakes, and often take steps to obstruct the truth,” said DPIC Executive Director Robert Dunham. “That is one of the reasons why public support for the death ...

Federal Judge Keeps Heat on Florida to Implement Amendment 4 Voter Restoration for Ex-Felons

On April 7, 2020, Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and its GOP-dominated legislature lost another round in their battle to limit a voter-approved amendment to the state constitution providing automatic restoration of voting rights to most convicted felons “upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.”

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that his earlier decision in October 2019 to block the state from making the payment of fines, fees and restitution owed to courts and victims a condition of re-enfranchisement covers all individuals in the state, not merely the 17 named plaintiffs who originally sued the governor. Hinkle said he would grant the suit class-action status to cover all of the state’s former felony prisoners contemplated by the amendment.

Almost 71 percent of state voters approved Amendment 4 in November 2018. But the Republican-dominated state legislature moved quickly to define the amendment’s prerequisite to re-enfranchisement – “completion of all terms of sentence” – to mean “any portion of a sentence that is contained in the four corners of the sentencing document,” including “full payment of LFOs (legal financial obligations) ordered by the sentencing court as part of the sentence.” [SeePLN, ...

News in Brief

Alabama: Doctors have warned about the toxicity of K2, a common synthetic marijuana smuggled into prisons. Alabama Department of Corrections narcotics dog Jake, a 5-year-old Belgian Malinois, died after an allergic reaction to the substance found in a July 2019 contraband search at Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore County. Sergeant Quinton Jones, Jake’s handler, said, “After alerting on the substance, Jake lost his balance and became unresponsive.” The dorm was evacuated and the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Hazardous Materials Unit dispatched. Tests confirmed the substance as K2. Juanita Peavy and Leanne Smith from Stanton’s medical team performed CPR and inserted an IV for stabilizing fluids. Jake was transported to the Auburn University Clinic. Jake was expected to recover, but died three days later, after developing pneumonia. He was honored on July 30, 2019 with a 21-gun salute and commendation from Governor Kay Ivey at a memorial service that took place at the Staton Kennel Complex in Elmore.

Australia: New South Wales police described a “sudden and unprovoked” riot at the Frank Baxter Juvenile Justice Centre, near Sydney in July 2019. Prisoners overwhelmed guards, secured keys and attacked known sex offenders. The siege lasted 21 hours. Prisoners were ...