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Prison Legal News: August, 2020

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Volume 31, Number 8

In this issue:

  1. Coronavirus in Prison: The Cruel Reality (p 1)
  2. Survey of 8,000 Prisoners’ Political Views Finds Surprising Results (p 12)
  3. “Collateral Consequences” of Convictions Hinder Chances of Post-Prison Success (p 14)
  4. From the Editor (p 14)
  5. How to Fail at Running a Prison During a Pandemic (p 16)
  6. New Initiatives from Philadelphia, Koch Industries, Work to Get Ex-Offenders Jobs (p 18)
  7. Medical Director of California Prison System Removed After Dubious Transfers Spike COVID-19 Counts (p 18)
  8. Judge Awards $273,246 Payment to New York Prisoner Beaten by Guard (p 19)
  9. Prison Postcards: “I feel as though I was either in a car accident or beaten by a baseball bat.” (p 20)
  10. Utah State Auditor Finds Grave Deficiencies in Prisoner Placement Program (p 22)
  11. Justice Department and GEO Group Challenge California’s Ban on Private Prison and Detention Facilities (p 24)
  12. Nevada Court Rules Prison Officials Withheld Evidence from Prisoner (p 25)
  13. U.S. District Court Says Rhode Island Department of Corrections Violated “Morris Rules” (p 26)
  14. Injunction Orders Protection for Prisoner Witnesses in California Disability Lawsuit (p 26)
  15. Lockdowns Follow “Coordinated” Gang Fights at Oklahoma Prisons (p 27)
  16. California Scrambled to Staff Wildfire Crews After Firefighting Prisoners Locked Down Due to COVID-19 (p 28)
  17. Texas Execs Sentenced for Providing Bad Food to BOP (p 28)
  18. Colorado Parole Board Cannot Confine Parolee Beyond Statutory Max (p 29)
  19. Coronavirus Will Not Be Controlled in Country Until It Is Controlled in Prisons and Jails (p 30)
  20. Prisoner Law Consultant in Michigan Pleads Guilty to Defrauding BOP (p 32)
  21. Interview: Jessica Sandoval of Unlock the Box on Solitary Confinement (p 32)
  22. $5,400 Payout by Montana DOC Over Ex-Prisoner’s Claim of Religious, Gender Discrimination (p 33)
  23. Seventh Circuit: Transfer of Indiana Prisoner Based on Substance of Grievances Not Retaliatory (p 34)
  24. Captain at Jail Where Epstein Died Offered New Position of Authority; Warden Remains on Desk Duty (p 34)
  25. $110,000 Settlement Reached in Ohio Prisoner’s Excessive Force Suit (p 35)
  26. Alabama DOC Report: Staff Beat, Hog-Tied, and Denied Medical Care to Fatally Injured Prisoner Seeking Help; Then Covered It Up (p 36)
  27. New Study Documents Startling Spread of COVID-19 in American Prisons and Jails (p 38)
  28. Commitment to New Jersey’s “Special Treatment Unit” a Potential Death Sentence (p 38)
  29. Coronavirus Shuts Down Ramen Soup Plant; Prisoners in Michigan Limited on Purchase Amounts (p 40)
  30. Families Accuse Arkansas Prison of Poor Communication on COVID-19 Prisoners (p 40)
  31. Sixth Circuit: Courts Must Construe Pro Se Notice of Appeal as Motion for Extension of Time to Appeal (p 41)
  32. Kansas Prison Dental Instructor Sentenced to 32 Months for Molesting Female Prisoner (p 42)
  33. Michigan Prisoner’s Malicious Prosecution Claim Survives Summary Judgment (p 42)
  34. Oregon Court Holds Prison Litigation Reform Act Exhaustion Tolls Statute of Limitations (p 43)
  35. Book Review: The Habeas Citebook: Prosecutorial Misconduct Is an Invaluable Resource for Challenging Prosecutorial Misconduct (p 44)
  36. Bad Behavior: Key to Getting Promoted for Alabama Prison Officials (p 46)
  37. San Quentin Had Zero COVID-19 Cases Until California Officials Sent Infected Prisoners, Triggered Wildfire (p 47)
  38. Due to Steps Taken by New Mexico Officials, Only Sex Offenders Present When Prison Overwhelmed by COVID-19 (p 48)
  39. Darren Rainey Died in Scalding Prison Shower Eight Years Ago Today, Still No Charges Filed (p 48)
  40. $135,000 Settles Sexual Orientation Discrimination Suit by Former Michigan Prison Guard (p 50)
  41. Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign Files Suit Seeking to Sever University’s Financial Ties With Prison Industrial Complex (p 50)
  42. Eleventh Circuit Holds Trafficking Victims Protection Act Applies to CoreCivic “Voluntary Work Program” (p 52)
  43. Alabama Says It Will Reform Prisons, the Nation’s Deadliest (p 52)
  44. New York: Prisoner Kills Himself After Brutal Beating by Guards (p 53)
  45. COVID-19 Causes Public Defenders to Change How They Handle Cases (p 54)
  46. $140,000 Settlement in Ohio Jail Beating, Retaliation Case (p 56)
  47. Jury Award $700,000 to Maryland Prisoner Assaulted by Guards (p 56)
  48. IRS Blocks Prisoners from CARES Stimulus Checks (p 57)
  49. Former Prisoners Are Running for Office In 2020 (p 58)
  50. Seventh Circuit: Totality of the Circumstances Must be Considered to Show “Policy or Custom” by Government Agency Caused Injury for Monell Claim (p 58)
  51. $122,000 Payout as Utah Settles Suits Claiming Daggett County Jail Torture (p 60)
  52. Jewish Michigan Prisoners Win Injunction for Religious Sabbath and Holiday Meals (p 60)
  53. Texas Prison System Bans Greetings Cards, Postcards, Colored Paper in Mail (p 62)
  54. News in Brief (p 62)

Coronavirus in Prison: The Cruel Reality

As Numbers Rise, Some Prison Systems Admit Defeat, Others Try to Ignore Death Toll

While tracking the number of infections and deaths is an important indicator of coronavirus’ impact, this fails to view the toll on individuals. Numbers can’t explain the impact this pandemic has had on the personal psyche of prisoners, their families, or their communities. What makes this even worse is prison officials’ lackluster response.

It would be comforting to think that prison administrators and city governments would care more about the human cost of this crisis than the economic or political cost, but this has largely proven to be a false hope.

Lives continue to be lost as prison officials downplay coronavirus’ impact inside their institutions. They treat guards humanely while dealing with prisoners as untrustworthy animals. All the while, political pundits and tough-on-crime groups call foul when governors, judges, and ...

Survey of 8,000 Prisoners’ Political Views Finds Surprising Results

They reported that:

• A plurality of white respondents back President Trump, undercutting claims that people in prison would overwhelmingly vote for Democrats.

• Long stretches in prison appear to be more politicizing: The more time respondents spend in prison, the more motivated they are to vote and to discuss politics.

• Perspectives change inside prison. Republicans behind bars back policies like legalizing marijuana that are less popular with GOP voters on the outside; Democrats inside prison are less enthusiastic about assault weapons bans than Democrats at large.

• Political views diverged by race. Black respondents are the only group pointing to reducing racial bias in criminal justice as a top concern; almost every other group picked reducing the prison population as a key priority.

The survey was inserted into The Marshall Project’s print publication, ...

“Collateral Consequences” of Convictions Hinder Chances of Post-Prison Success

At least 77 million American adults have criminal records. That’s almost one out of three adults over the age of 18 in the entire nation (and doesn’t even include those with juvenile records). The Council of State Governments tracks collateral consequences of a conviction in  detail and said a conviction makes it impossible to obtain a license to work as a plumber, barber, manicurist, interior designer, or bans altogether the ability to get an occupational license, which about one in four Americans rely on to do a multitude of jobs. A conviction can cause someone with a license to lose all of this.

“One thing I’ve learned while researching criminal justice reform and teaching college classes in prisons is that ...

From the Editor

As summer wears on, the pandemic continues to take its toll behind bars. Our cover story reports the latest developments on COVID-19 in prisons and jails. Thanks to all the prisoner readers who are sending us reports and updates about coronavirus in their facilities. We are especially interested in learning about serious illnesses and deaths as those are numbers likely to be concealed or underplayed by the government.

It appears likely that COVID-19 will be with us, in prison and out, for the foreseeable future and the political class in this country has deemed prisoners, especially convicted ones, to be expendable. To date, very little in the way of prison releases or other measures to ensure safety are happening. We are monitoring all the litigation and political and news developments around the country and will continue reporting on them in PLN. Dr. Michael Cohen continues providing us with the latest medical information related to COVID-19 in detention facilities and discussing treatment and prevention options.

We will be covering COVID-19 in PLN as long as it remains a prison health and litigation issue. We are also aware that all the other issues around detention facilities, such as ...

How to Fail at Running a Prison During a Pandemic

A firsthand account from FCI Seagoville in Texas, one of the epicenters of the COVID-19 pandemic

by Anthony W. Accurso

[Editor’s note: As of July 22, the Bureau of Prisons website reported 1,220 prisoners had tested positive for coronavirus at Seagoville, the highest number at any BOP prison. Ten staff had tested positive.]

As I write this, I am incarcerated at a federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facility near Dallas, Texas known as FCI Seagoville. As of early July, my institution is making headlines as the federal prison with the largest uncontrolled infection rate of the novel coronavirus in the United States.

While the BOP has ostensibly been preparing for this moment and disseminating guidelines for how to manage the pandemic at each facility, this institution has managed to fail spectacularly at preventing the virus from breaching the prison walls, and containing it once it did. In retrospect, the measures taken by the prison’s administration were flawed from the beginning and marred by noncompliance by correctional officers (COs).

The entire BOP system has been on some form of modified operation (aka “lockdown”) since April 1, 2020. This lockdown was supposed to reduce the possibility of introducing the virus ...

New Initiatives from Philadelphia, Koch Industries, Work to Get Ex-Offenders Jobs

Last January, Koch Industries, through the Charles Koch Institute, announced a partnership with the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) to develop the Getting Talent Back to Work Initiative, a program that educates businesses on the benefits of hiring ex-offenders.

“We have to figure out how we keep folks successful and from recidivating and going back to prison, or even jail, and part of that is (getting) a job,” said Jenny Kim, deputy general counsel and vice president, public policy for Koch Industries. “That is what the Getting Talent Back to Work initiative is about.”

With nearly 7 million jobs open at the time, the U.S. labor force simply didn’t have enough workers, she added. Though unemployment has since shot up as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a two-decade plunge continues in what’s called the “labor force participation rate” – the share of eligible people either working or looking for work.

About 61.5 percent of Americans who could work were in the labor force in June 2020, a decline of 1.5 percent from the level a year earlier and 5.6 percent below the level 20 years ago. ...

Medical Director of California Prison System Removed After Dubious Transfers Spike COVID-19 Counts

As a result, Tharratt was relieved of his duties by Governor Gavin Newsom on July 6.

Tharratt approved a transfer in May of 121 prisoners from the California Institution for Men in Chino, where more than 900 prisoners were infected, to multiple institutions, including San Quentin, where more than one-third had tested positive, and three died during the July Fourth weekend. California state prisons have been under the supervision of a federal court-appointed receiver for more than a decade, and the same receiver who had appointed Tharratt in 2010 was the one who replaced him.

Newsom was unhappy with the unusual prisoner movement. “They should not have been transferred,” he said. California Correctional Health Care Services agreed, stating that “mass movement of high-risk inmates between institutions without outbreaks is ill-advised and potentially dangerous (and) carries significant risk of spreading transmission of the disease between institutions.”

That opinion ...

Judge Awards $273,246 Payment to New York Prisoner Beaten by Guard

On January 16, 2020, a New York federal magistrate judge awarded $273,246.88 to a Sing Sing Correctional Facility prisoner who alleged a guard brutally beat him and lied about the incident.

The civil rights action was brought on May 3, 2017, by prisoner Morgan Greenburger. His complaint alleged that he was placed on “special watch” on May 11, 2016, after he told guards that he had eaten a toothbrush. Special watch requires guards to have constant supervision of prisoners to prevent them from injuring themselves.

Greenburger alleged that while under such supervision, he requested a urine bottle from guard Phillip R. Roundtree. Wait “a few minutes,” Roundtree told him. “Greenburg waited, again asked for the urine bottle, waited another fifteen minutes, and asked a third time, informing Roundtree that it was becoming an emergency,” according to court records.

Roundtree responded by screaming at Greenburger and threatening to beat him if he asked again. Greenburger said he was trying to avoid conflict but that he needed to use the bottle. After asking, “you sure you want it?” Roundtree opened the cell door and placed the urine bottle inside near the door.

“As Greenburger reached for the bottle, ...

Prison Postcards: “I feel as though I was either in a car accident or beaten by a baseball bat.”

With the possible exception of Brazil, no country has handled the pandemic worse than the United States. In early July, Arizona, Florida and South Carolina had the world’s worst per capita infection rates. The Middle Eastern country of Bahrain was fourth. Overall, nine of the world’s top dozen hot spots were U.S. states. 

No one knows where the pandemic will head next — as I write, California is being pummeled with new cases — but there’s been one constant from the moment the pandemic hit the country: prisons and jails hosted the worst outbreaks. When I wrote this column last month, statistics compiled by The Marshall Project showed that at least 43,967 people in prison had tested positive and 522 prisoners had died of COVID-19. As I write today, 64,119 prisoners ...

Utah State Auditor Finds Grave Deficiencies in Prisoner Placement Program

The audit resulted in six major categorical findings, according to the state auditor. Those findings included allegations suggesting:

1. UDC failed to adequately learn from inappropriate activities that occurred at the Daggett County Jail.

2. UDC’s monitoring of contract jails is wholly inadequate.

3. “IPP does not adequately track and resolve concerns identified at contract jails.

4. “UDC operated without jail standards.

5. “UDC cannot adequately judge how effective IPP is at accomplishing its mission” and

6. “UDC Internal Audit Bureau does not prioritize IPP’s significant risk factors.”

State Auditor John Dougall commented: UDC has not “adequately learned from [previous issues] and improved its oversight of IPP, and IPP did not adequately improve its monitoring of contracted facilities.”

The most troubling problems were discovered at the now-closed Daggett County Jail. According to The ...

Justice Department and GEO Group Challenge California’s Ban on Private Prison and Detention Facilities

Signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October 2019, A.B. 32 bars any entity with a prison, jail or detention facility in the state from signing or extending a contract for its operation with a private firm after January 1, 2020. It also prohibits the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (CDCR) from entering into any new contract to house prisoners outside of the state in privately operated detention facilities. However, the law allows exemptions necessary to comply with a court-ordered population cap.

According to the DOJ complaint, five of eight exceptions provided for in A.B. 32 apply only to California’s contracts and not to those entered into by the U.S. government. They cover facilities that:

• provide services to a juvenile pursuant to a state juvenile court order;

• provide mental health evaluation or treatment to a person under a state court commitment order;

• ...

Nevada Court Rules Prison Officials Withheld Evidence from Prisoner

The order accepted the factual findings in a magistrate’s report and recommendation, but it rejected the conclusion that both parties’ motions for summary judgment should be denied. The facts showed that in November 2014, staff at the High Desert State Prison received an anonymous tip that Melnik was introducing methamphetamine into the prison. As a result, they began monitoring his mail. Letters were intercepted on December 10 and 12, and a small pouch of meth was found taped onto the letters in each envelope.

Melnik was issued two disciplinary charges for unauthorized use of mail and possession/sale of intoxicants. At a disciplinary hearing conducted February 10, 2015, Melnik testified the meth was not his and that he was set up by members of the Aryan Warriors prison gang because he refused to participate in illegal activity. He also requested, and was denied, copies of the envelopes and letters at issue.

The district court ...

U.S. District Court Says Rhode Island Department of Corrections Violated “Morris Rules”

Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. also found the DOC had violated another provision of the consent decree by hearing appeals of solitary confinement decisions with a one-man panel instead of the three-member panel required under the terms of that 1972 order, known as the “Morris Rules” after the Morris v. Travisono case from which it stemmed.

The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed the motion to challenge the DOC’s amended rules on behalf of prisoner Richard Lee Paiva. The 47-year-old, who is serving a life sentence for the 2009 stabbing death of his mother, Rita, had been held in disciplinary segregation for 60 days following an offense in 2014.

“We think that long terms in isolation are bad for everyone,” said Lynette J. Labinger, who teamed with Sonja L. Deyoe to argue Paiva’s case.

They presented Judge McConnell with an ...

Injunction Orders Protection for Prisoner Witnesses in California Disability Lawsuit

The court’s July 2, 2020, order found that the plaintiffs had shown a likelihood of success on the merits on their claim that the defendants and their employees had violated the court’s March 17, 2020, order and the Americans with Disabilities Act by retaliating against the two class members (witnesses). The March order specifically ordered the defendants not to take retaliatory action against any of the prisoner witnesses in the suit.

In its July order, the court found that the plaintiffs had demonstrated they were “likely to show at Defendants and their employees have retaliated against the Witnesses for participating in this lawsuit and for supporting the Motion to Stop Defendants from Assaulting, Abusing, and Retaliating Against Incarcerated People with Disabilities” at RJD and statewide.

The plaintiffs were likely to prove that the defendants had “been unable or unwilling to address the safety concerns of the Witnesses in their current housing placements at RJD,” wrote the court. “In light of ...

Lockdowns Follow “Coordinated” Gang Fights at Oklahoma Prisons

The lockdowns began on September 15, 2019, after fights between gangs at prisons in Hominy, Sayre, Fort Supply, Lawton, and Stringtown occurred within 24 hours of altercations at Northeast Oklahoma Correctional Center in Vinita.

“It has to be a coordinated effort,” said Bobby Cleveland, director of the Oklahoma Corrections Professionals. “They even had fights at the minimum-security prison.” He noted that prisoners use contraband cellphones to coordinate illegal efforts.

Following the lockdowns, guards conducted shakedowns of the prisons and confiscated homemade weapons. “A lot of shanks . . . broken broom handles, broken faucets, faucet heads that have a cord attached to them,” said Matt Elliott, spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (OCDC). “The types of weapons inmates typically use and fight with.”

Prisoner Chad Burns, 27, was killed in a fight at the Dick Conner Correctional Center in Hominy. He was serving a 15-year sentence for 2016 convictions on charges of weapons, assault and battery, robbery, and burglary. Of the 36 ...

California Scrambled to Staff Wildfire Crews After Firefighting Prisoners Locked Down Due to COVID-19

As of early July 2020, 12 of California’s 43 prison fire camps were on lockdown due to the massive COVID-19 outbreak, including the training facility in Northern California in Lassen County. This means that only 30 of the 77 prisoner-staffed wildfire crews were available to battle these devastating blazes.

For decades, prisoner wildland firefighters have fought on the front lines as “hand crews,” using chainsaws and hand tools to cut fire lines around properties. It’s a critically important and dangerous job. Each crew has 17 prisoners trained in firefighting, led by a Cal Fire captain. There are about 2,200 prisoners certified as firefighters to work alongside Cal Fire’s 6,500 year-round employees, which swells to 9,000 during peak fire season.

But on June 23, 2020, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”) locked down all its prisons, keeping the ...

Texas Execs Sentenced for Providing Bad Food to BOP

In the early 2000s, the Texas Legislature actually passed a general session law requiring the state prison system to purchase the “best quality” foods available. Presumably there is a similar federal statute applicable to the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the only prison system in the United States that is larger than the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

According to a March 2, 2020, report by BOP’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the BOP does not have any quality assurance plan to ensure the foods offered to its prisoners meet industry or legal standards.

To illustrate just how serious the feds have seemingly become concerning the safety of the foods it serves prisoners, a plethora of criminal prosecutions against vendors of substandard food products began in 2014.

In February 2020, two executives of West Texas Provisions, Inc., in Amarillo, Texas, were sentenced to 46- and 42-month terms in the BOP. The two had conspired ...

Colorado Parole Board Cannot Confine Parolee Beyond Statutory Max

In February 2018, Jimmie Graham’s parole officer alleged he violated three conditions of his parole: changing his residence without permission, failing to report to the parole office, and committing a new felony — escape. The escape case was quickly dismissed, and Graham pleaded not guilty to the two remaining violations.

The Parole Board found him guilty, and, noting that he had been revoked from parole eight times previously, sentenced him to confinement for the remainder of his prison term. They cited § 17-2-103(11)(b), C.R.S., which allows for various tiers of re-confinement for parole violations, and § 17-2-103 (11)(f)(II), which makes tampering ‘with a parolee’s GPS monitoring device punishable as a violation under § 11(b).

Graham filed a habeas petition with his district court (which was denied), and then appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court. The Court found that paragraph (b) contained multiple subsections at the time he was on parole. Sections ...

Coronavirus Will Not Be Controlled in Country Until It Is Controlled in Prisons and Jails

If staff continue to get infected and introduce the virus back into the community, there will still be outbreaks that can spread widely if not well controlled. Such concerns should lead first to fewer arrests, bookings and jailings for minor crimes, as well as to greater efforts to identify cases and control the spread in jails and prisons.

An editorial in the July American Journal of Public Health summed up the reasons that prisons are high-risk institutions (i.e. overcrowding and unsanitary living conditions) and a potential source of re-infection for local communities and beyond.

And an important report from Illinois was discussed in an opinion article in The New York Times on July 6. It examined the impact of people booked into Cook County jail on the spread of coronavirus in Chicago and on Illinois as a whole. That jail was the site of one of the larger outbreaks of COVID-19 in the country. As reported, “The cycle of arrests, jailings and releases was the most significant ...

Prisoner Law Consultant in Michigan Pleads Guilty to Defrauding BOP

Pham, 50, a “Managing Partner” at Michigan-based RDAP Law Consultants, and those he supervised contacted federal criminal defendants and prisoners through unsolicited emails and telephone calls to assist them, for a fee, to qualify for the RDAP.

Despite knowing many of the clients did not abuse drugs or alcohol and were ineligible for the program, Pham coached them on how to feign or exaggerate a drug or alcohol disorder to gain entry to the program, which allows prisoners to qualify for up to 12 months early release.

The scheme earned RDAP Law Consultants $2,628,137 in client fees from September 2102 through January 2019. When the scheme began, Pham was living in a residential reentry center.

Pham was originally supposed to be sentenced in March 2020, but that was suspended until at least August. 

 

Interview: Jessica Sandoval of Unlock the Box on Solitary Confinement

by Ken Silverstein

Unlock the Box supports education and advocacy efforts on the national, state, and local levels to advance the goal of ending solitary confinement in the United States. The coalition defines solitary confinement for adults as “confinement for more than 20 hours per day, alone or with a cellmate, without meaningful human contact.” Jessica Sandoval, the group’s national campaign strategist, has 25 years of experience reforming the youth and adult justice systems. She develops and administers strategies and tools to support state campaigns aligned with the mission of the “stop solitary” movement. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How widespread is the use of solitary in U.S. prisons? Is it used strictly to punish violent offenders or more casually? If the latter, what other reasons are prisoners put in solitary? 

From self-reported Department of Corrections data compiled by Yale’s Arthur Lima Center for Public Interest Law we know that solitary is widespread and the estimates are conservative: 60,000-80,000 prisoners are held. This number only includes the 43 states that reported. Florida and a dozen other states didn’t participate, and this number doesn’t include youth facilities, or jails. So, we believe the number to be ...

$5,400 Payout by Montana DOC Over Ex-Prisoner’s Claim of Religious, Gender Discrimination

The November 7, 2019 Conciliation Agreement resolved complaints brought by prisoner May Simmons, who was held at the Montana Women’s Prison (MWP). Simmons filed a complaint with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, Human Rights Bureau on August 20, 2018.

The complaint contained three claims: failure to afford equal opportunities in trade skills for women as provided men; failure to provide Simmons with a Jehovah’s Witness Bible or services; and failure to provide a reasonable accommodation for Simmons’ disabling condition.

The Conciliation Agreement provided for Simmons to receive $1,000 and her attorney, Eric Holm, received $4,400 in attorney fees. It also required MDOC to provide Simmons, who suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome, with a typewriter and two ribbons for use in her cell until her release (which occurred on December 15, 2019). Additionally, prisoners of the Jehovah’s Witness denomination were to be “permitted to use the chapel for the exercise of their religion to the same extent and pursuant to the same rules as all other religious denominations within ...

Seventh Circuit: Transfer of Indiana Prisoner Based on Substance of Grievances Not Retaliatory

Indiana prisoner Robert Holleman was described by the Seventh Circuit as “the quintessential jailhouse lawyer.” From 2012 until November 2015, Holleman was confined at Pendleton Correctional Facility. While there, he worked as a law clerk, helped others file lawsuits and pursue legal remedies, and successfully prosecuted several of his own lawsuits.

His civil rights complaint recounted “a troubled history between himself and officials at Pendleton,” specifically its superintendent, Dushan Zatecky. That history of retaliation included termination as a law clerk, removal from preferential housing, placement in segregation, and subjection to a sham investigation.

Those instances were cited as context for the alleged retaliation that formed the basis for his lawsuit. In March 2015, Holleman sued over cold conditions at Pendleton. Then, in October 11, 2015, he contributed statements to a newspaper about allegedly poor medical care provided to prisoners at Pendleton. Three days later, he filed a grievance alleging the nutritional value of lunches was inadequate.

Zatecky’s ...

Captain at Jail Where Epstein Died Offered New Position of Authority; Warden Remains on Desk Duty

Darden, 48, was a jail captain at the BOP’s Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in New York City when billionaire Jeffrey Epstein reportedly committed suicide in his cell on August 10, 2019, after a high-profile arrest for sex trafficking involving underage girls.

Kerri Kulec, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), said MCC guards Tova Noel and Michael Thomas — who worked under Darden — were placed on administrative leave following Epstein’s suicide, during which they were allegedly asleep on the job and later falsified records to cover up the fact.

Three days after Epstein’s death, U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced that the BOP would transfer MCC Warden Lamine N’Diaye to a leadership position at FCI Fort Dix. But in January 2020, citing “serious questions that must be answered,” Barr stopped the transfer while the FBI and DOJ’s inspector general continued to investigate Epstein’s suicide.

In a November 2019 interview, Barr admitted that the ...

$110,000 Settlement Reached in Ohio Prisoner’s Excessive Force Suit

While at Southern Correctional Facility on January 21, 2018, prisoner Richard Barrow was attacked by another prisoner in his cell when his cell was opened for lunch time. He was subsequently placed in handcuffs behind his back and escorted out the cell block. As that was being done, a guard yelled, “Put him in the hucklebuck,” a term meaning to assault someone.

Guards Toby Bolton, Tony Barrett, Evan Smith and Adam Smith began to assault Barrow, causing a gash in his lip. He was dragged to the medical unit with his head slamming on door jams, Barrow alleged.

Once at medical, he was kicked and stomped until a nurse arrived, resulting in a broken rib and cuts to his eye and lip.

After exhausting his administrative remedies, Barrow on June 20, 2018, filed a civil rights complaint in federal court. Represented by the law firm of Friedman and Gilbert, the matter resulted in a preliminary settlement on September ...

Alabama DOC Report: Staff Beat, Hog-Tied, and Denied Medical Care to Fatally Injured Prisoner Seeking Help; Then Covered It Up

DOC prisoners found Billy Smith on November 13, 2017, dazed and injured on a bathroom floor at the Elmore Correctional Facility after another prisoner, Bryan Blount, allegedly punched him in the head and knocked him out. An “ambulance unit” of prisoners took the bloodied Smith to the shift commander’s office. He was placed on a gurney and parked in a grassy area outside the office where it was cold and raining. Then he was ignored.

According to the report, which was revealed on February 18, 2020 by BuzzFeed News and Injustice Watch, Lt. Kenny Waver threatened to spray Smith with a chemical agent because he refused to sit down when he first arrived. Smith continued to complain that he was cold ...

New Study Documents Startling Spread of COVID-19 in American Prisons and Jails

In the United States, the incarcerated typically live in overcrowded facilities, with poor ventilation and insufficient access to masks and soap. They are disproportionately likely to have medical conditions that put them at high risk if they get the virus. And every day, staff and trustees move through the prison, spreading the risk of infection to every housing unit. 

Since the start of the pandemic, prisoners’ advocates, along with incarcerated people and their families and communities, have been warning that, once COVID-19 gets into a prison, it is likely to spread quickly. 

Now we have the data that proves them right. In a study published on July 8 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, our research team analyzed data collected by the UCLA Law Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project from every state’s Department of Corrections and the federal Bureau of Prisons. We found that between March 31 and June 6, coronavirus case rates grew by ...

Commitment to New Jersey’s “Special Treatment Unit” a Potential Death Sentence

Sex offenders who had completed their criminal sentences in the state of New Jersey were being civilly committed to a facility that had a higher death rate due to COVID-19 than any prison in the United States as of early June.

The Sexually Violent Predator Act of 1999 allowed courts in New Jersey to commit sex offenders who “are likely to engage in repeat acts of predatory sexual offenses” to the Special Treatment Unit (STU) in Avenal, New Jersey. The state’s attorney general petitions the court just prior to a sex offender’s release from prison and he or she is remanded to the facility for “treatment” until deemed mentally fit for release. Some remain there the rest of their lives.

“We call it the ‘Pine Box Release Program,’” former resident Russell (who requested his last name not be used) told The Appeal and Type Investigations, “because the only way you were leaving it was in a box, dead.”

STU houses 441 “residents” and is located on the grounds of the East Jersey State Prison, run by the Department of Corrections. Involuntarily institutionalized because psychiatric experts have determined they are a threat to themselves or others, ...

Coronavirus Shuts Down Ramen Soup Plant; Prisoners in Michigan Limited on Purchase Amounts

In a memo from the state Department of Corrections (DOC), Michigan prisoners were told that “until the supplier has made a full recovery in production, there may be times when specific ramen products are out of stock.”

DOC spokesman Chris Gautz confirmed on June 14, 2020, that the ramen noodle plant was indeed shut down and that prisoners were now limited to purchasing only half the amount of ramen soup they could before — 15 packages every two weeks, instead of the usual 30.

In early April 2020, reports surfaced that American sales of ramen had spiked 578 percent at the beginning of widespread lockdowns to combat COVID-19. No shortages have been reported other than the one plaguing DOC. In May 2020 a ramen factory in suburban Richmond, Virginia, reported seven positive tests for the disease among its 420 workers, but ...

Families Accuse Arkansas Prison of Poor Communication on COVID-19 Prisoners

As of June 14, Cummins had 963 positive cases of coronavirus out of the 1,900 prisoners housed there, with 65 positive staff cases. Prisoners Derick Coley, Morris Davis and Jim Wilson all contracted the virus and died suddenly and with little contact from the prison.

For-profit provider Wellpath is in charge of health care at the prison. According to NPR affiliate KUAR, at the time of Coley’s death “it appears that the most trained medical staff in the building that night were licensed practical nurses.”

The Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports that Coley was serving a 20-year sentence for a “terroristic act in relation to a shooting.” His girlfriend, Cece Tate, stated that Coley, 29, had stayed in contact with her and their daughter using a contraband cell phone.

Tate tested positive in April and all calls ceased. Tate and Coley’s sister, Tytiuna Harris, made several calls ...

Sixth Circuit: Courts Must Construe Pro Se Notice of Appeal as Motion for Extension of Time to Appeal

Brandon Young filed a prison-condition lawsuit in the district court when he was on “dry cell protocol” and was later moved to a psychiatric unit. During those moments, he was unaware that the district court had dismissed his lawsuit, triggering the 30 days he had in order to file his notice of appeal. When he later became aware, he filed his notice of appeal but it was eight days late. Attached to his notice, however, he provided proof for why he was late.

Determining on its own whether it had jurisdiction to hear Young’s appeal, the Sixth Circuit noted that Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(5) (“FRAP”) allows for a motion to extend the time for filing a ...

Kansas Prison Dental Instructor Sentenced to 32 Months for Molesting Female Prisoner

A man who taught female Kansas state prisoners how to make dentures was convicted on March 6, 2020 of molesting a prisoner, sentenced to 32 months in prison and required to register as a sex offender for 25 years.

Thomas Co, 73, was the supervisor of the dental lab program at the Topeka Correctional Facility, the state’s only women’s prison. He taught the prisoners to make dentures that were used for other prisoners and for people receiving dentures through the state’s social services programs.

Co arrived at Topeka in 2013 and complaints about sexual harassment of the women in the dental lab program began almost immediately. The complaints escalated to unwanted kissing and touching and eventually escalated sufficiently to justify criminal charges after an internal investigation determined that Co should be fired. He was terminated in 2018.

Co’s trial involved allegations of molestation by six women, but he was found guilty on only one charge. Shawnee County District Judge Cheryl Rios allowed Co to post a $50,000 appeal bond after the trial.

Sherman Smith, managing editor for The Topeka Capital-Journal, broke the story about Co in 2019. His investigation turned up at least a dozen women ...

Michigan Prisoner’s Malicious Prosecution Claim Survives Summary Judgment

Before the court was the appeal of Michigan prisoner Chris Davis, who is housed at Ionia Correctional Facility. His 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action was screened and several claims were dismissed, but Davis was allowed to proceed on his First Amendment claim of retaliation for filing a grievance and state and federal malicious prosecution claims against guard James Gallagher. The court subsequently granted Gallagher’s motion for summary judgment, and Davis appealed.

As Davis “was leaving breakfast one morning, Gallagher called him ‘Bubba’ and asked where he was going.” When Davis did not respond, Gallagher called Davis “boy” and demanded an answer to his question. Davis told Gallagher that “Bubba” and “boy” are racist terms and that he may file a grievance over his perceived racism. Gallagher responded that Davis better acknowledge him when called “or I will put your ass in the hole, boy.”

Gallagher did not dispute that interaction, but he disputed Davis’ version of events at lunch. As he was leaving the lunchroom, ...

Oregon Court Holds Prison Litigation Reform Act Exhaustion Tolls Statute of Limitations

Anthony Sam White is a paraplegic prisoner of the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC). He was denied mobility aids and adequate housing while confined in the Disciplinary Segregation Unit (DSU) at the Two Rivers Correctional Institution (TRCI) between February and April 2017.

After exhausting administrative remedies, as required by 42 USC § l 997e(a) of the PLRA, White brought federal suit on July 18, 2019. He alleged that prison officials violated the Eighth Amendment and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when they denied him mobility aids and adequate housing.

Defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that White’s suit was untimely because it was filed outside the applicable two-year statute of limitations period.

The district court denied the motion. Quoting Soto v. Sweetman, 882 F3d 865, 872 (9th Cir. 2018), the court noted that this “circuit has, with other circuits, adopted a mandatory tolling provision for claims subject to the Prison Litigation Reform Act.” See also Brown v. Valoff, 422 F3d 926, 942-43 (9th Cir. 2005). ...

Book Review: The Habeas Citebook: Prosecutorial Misconduct Is an Invaluable Resource for Challenging Prosecutorial Misconduct

I have to admit that the idea of a citebook in the age of searchable databases was a little lost on me. “Who needs a citebook these days,” I would say. But then Richard, managing editor at Criminal Legal News, asked me to take a look at a new citebook by Prison Legal News Publishing called The Habeas Citebook: Prosecutorial Misconduct (“THC”) and to give him my thoughts. So I did.

First, I want to say thanks to Richard — I’m keeping this book. You’re not getting it back. This book is a goldmine of information. This book proved me wrong about not needing a citebook these days.

If you have a prosecutorial misconduct claim or you think there’s even a possibility you might have a prosecutorial misconduct claim, you need this book. Sure, you could sit at a computer for hours searching for on-point cases to support your claim and trying to learn the perfect way to bring your claim to court.

Think of this book as the best “assistant” you could ever hire, one that’s an expert on prosecutorial misconduct. THC lets you invest your time into other important work, knowing that your “trusted assistant” ...

Bad Behavior: Key to Getting Promoted for Alabama Prison Officials

The fatal beating of Billy Smith while a prisoner at the Elmore Correctional Facility in November 2017 sheds some light on ADOC’s condoning violence and abuse in Alabama’s prisons. Smith, 35, was hogtied and beaten allegedly by three guards, including Jeremy Singleton, while supervisory staff ignored Smith as he screamed for help. Hours later, he was unresponsive with snoring respirations — a sign of a major head injury. He died in December 2017 from a fractured skull, autopsy results showed.

Singleton was promoted to sergeant. He resigned in August 2019 after a grand jury returned a manslaughter indictment against him and Smith’s fellow prisoner, Bryan Blount. In the 21 months that lapsed after Smith’s death, ADOC conducted an internal investigation and delivered its findings to the Elmore County District Attorney’s office, which presented a case to the grand jury that indicted Singleton and Blount. ...

San Quentin Had Zero COVID-19 Cases Until California Officials Sent Infected Prisoners, Triggered Wildfire

CDCR officials would argue that they didn’t deliberately transfer infected prisoners to San Quentin. But of the 121 prisoners transferred from CIM, not a single one had been tested within the three weeks before the transfer. Indeed, the reason the prisoners were transferred was to halt the spread of coronavirus at CIM, where nearly 700 prisoners were infected and nine had died. When they arrived at San Quentin, their temperatures were checked, but again, none were tested. For days, the new arrivals used the same showers and ate in the same dining hall as other San Quentin prisoners.

At a hearing before the state Senate, Ralph Diaz, secretary of the CDCR, said, “We care about ...

Due to Steps Taken by New Mexico Officials, Only Sex Offenders Present When Prison Overwhelmed by COVID-19

New Mexico’s Otero County Prison Facility is unusual in that half of it is used by the federal government and half by the New Mexico Department of Corrections (DOC). Both sides are run by private prison operator Management & Training Corporation, or MTC. The state side has the only Sex Offender Treatment Program in the DOC, which means almost all the 539 prisoners are convicted sex offenders. There is a 44-bed dormitory physically separated from the rest of the facility utilized to house non-sex-offenders.

The federal side holds prisoners for the U.S. Marshals Service and the Department of Homeland Security—mostly on drug charges. Next door is the Otero County Processing Center, which holds detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

In early March 2020, prisoners and staff began testing positive for COVID-19 on the federal side of the prison. Nonetheless, the DOC continued to pack more sex offenders into its most crowded prison, shipping them to Otero from the 10 other state prison systems. At the same time, the DOC quietly removed all 39 non-sex-offenders from Otero. The practice of shipping in more sex offenders did not cease until the first state prisoner tested positive in late March. ...

Darren Rainey Died in Scalding Prison Shower Eight Years Ago Today, Still No Charges Filed

by Jessica Lipscomb, originally published in Miami New Times, June 23, 2020

Eight years ago, today, Florida prison guards locked 50-year-old Darren Rainey inside a shower room, set the water temperature to scalding-hot, and turned it on. Roughly two hours later, Rainey collapsed and died inside that 3-by-8.5-foot room. After a five-year investigation, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle chose to not charge any of the corrections officers with a crime.

Rundle’s decision to clear the officers is largely regarded as one of the biggest stains on her 27-year career as Miami-Dade County’s top prosecutor. Now, as protests mount over the lack of police accountability in America, the Rainey case is receiving renewed attention ahead of Miami-Dade’s August 18 election, in which voters will choose to re-elect Rundle for an eighth term or install her progressive challenger, Melba Pearson, a former prosecutor in Rundle’s office who resigned her post as deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida in order to run against her former boss.

The details of Rainey’s death at the Dade Correctional Institution, a state prison, were sufficiently horrifying to gain national attention. On the night of June 23, 2012, corrections officers took Rainey ...

$135,000 Settles Sexual Orientation Discrimination Suit by Former Michigan Prison Guard

Twelve months after starting work at the DOC in January 2016, Ashley Menchaca transferred to the evening shift at the Woodland Correctional Facility. The supervisors for her shift were guard Captains Melissa Godfrey and Paul Schrieber and Sergeants Ahmet Ferizovic and [first name unknown] Long.

According to court documents, the supervisors began harassing Menchaca almost immediately. Long told her to stop having “resting bitch face,” and threatened her with disciplinary actions.

She was assigned to the “work gate,” a position considered punitive because it has no rotation, includes continuous direct supervision, and requires the guard to sit for long periods, often without relief to use the bathroom or check work emails on a department computer as required by regulations.

In one instance, Long aggressively grabbed her hat and yanked it down over her eyes as he passed through her post. Soon thereafter, Ferizovic asked another guard who worked with her to help him “fix” her.

Ferizovic also repeatedly threatened to discipline her for checking her ...

Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign Files Suit Seeking to Sever University’s Financial Ties With Prison Industrial Complex

On February 25, 2020, student members of the Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign (HPDC) filed suit in the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County, Massachusetts, seeking to force the university to divest its charitable trust investments from entities that directly or indirectly profit from the “prison-industrial complex” (PIC) – a sprawling group of privately owned firms that provide management and staffing, as well as food and health services to American prisons and jails.

Prompted by a similar student action in 2015, New York City’s Columbia University became the first American institution of higher education to restrict its PIC investments. Since then, the University of California system, Georgetown University, and more than a dozen other prominent universities have followed suit.

With nearly $40 billion invested, Harvard University holds the nation’s largest endowment for a learning institution. Students have been able to uncover specifics related only to about $400 million of that amount, but it includes at least $3 million invested in an equity fund that owns shares in the country’s two largest private prison operators, Florida-based GEO Group, Inc. and Tennessee-based CoreCivic, with 2019 revenues of $2.48 billion and $1.98 billion, respectively.

“Both my own parents have been incarcerated,” ...

Eleventh Circuit Holds Trafficking Victims Protection Act Applies to CoreCivic “Voluntary Work Program”

Plaintiffs Wilhen Hill Barrientos, Margarito Velazquez-Galicia, and Shoaib Ahmed are current and former immigration detainees who were held at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, a facility owned and operated by CoreCivic as an immigration detention facility under contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

ICE requires CoreCivic to follow the Performance-Based National Detention Standards, one of which requires that it offer detainees an opportunity to participate in a “voluntary work program.” The standards allow detention centers to require detainees to “maintain their immediate living areas in a neat and orderly manner,” but specifically states that they “shall not be required to work” and that all other work assignments are voluntary.

The plaintiffs filed a federal complaint alleging the “voluntary work program” at Stewart was anything but voluntary. They alleged CoreCivic coerced detainees into performing labor by “the use or threatened use of serious harm, criminal prosecution, solitary confinement, and ...

Alabama Says It Will Reform Prisons, the Nation’s Deadliest

Back in 2014 Alabama was sued in federal court regarding failures in taking care of the medical and mental-health needs of prisoners. Approximately three years later, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson found the ADOC “horrendously inadequate” in meeting those needs and also criticized severe staff shortages in the system. He then subsequently ordered the state to hire more than 2,000 additional correctional staff by 2022.

The possibility of a DOJ lawsuit against the state has apparently spurred Republican Governor Kay Ivey to convene a criminal-justice panel. “We’ve done a great job of identifying the issues,” panel member Chris Englund, a Democratic state representative, said. “But ...

New York: Prisoner Kills Himself After Brutal Beating by Guards

The lawsuit alleges that prison guards beat Taylor until he was unconscious. Shortly afterward, Taylor committed suicide. Court filings say the suicide was a direct result of the beating.

Taylor was 21 years old when he entered the New York prison system — and 22 when he left in a body bag. Taylor had a past filled with mental health issues in conjunction with suicide attempts. He had been sentenced to a life term at a young age, causing him documented bouts of depression, according to court records filed in the case.

On October 7, 2017 Taylor had his second negative reaction in two days after smoking synthetic marijuana, commonly referred to as K-2. A group of guards responded to Taylor’s cell where they beat him beyond recognition. Once the beating had stopped, he was hog tied and thrown down a flight of stairs face first, court papers say.

Taylor was seen at the infirmary at Wende prison after the brutal beat-down by guards. He was eventually transferred to ...

COVID-19 Causes Public Defenders to Change How They Handle Cases

With courthouses in Worcester County, Springfield, and Holyoke closing multiple times after staff there tested positive for the virus, Malone and McArdle have had to work from their dining room table in their apartment overlooking Forest Park. Instead of working from their offices, they consult by phone with clients, who are often stuck in jail waiting for a hearing to be released. And that call isn’t always private.

While the Public Defender Division has tried to convince the jails to allow Zoom meetings, even offering to give them the equipment for free, they’ve largely refused. “In fact for one sheriff’s office, we have a computer we’re ready to loan to them that’s set up with an operating system and a browser,” Randy Gioia, ...

$140,000 Settlement in Ohio Jail Beating, Retaliation Case

Corrionne Lawrence was booked into CCJ on September 16, 2018, for a probation violation.

When he answered a booking guard’s question in Spanish, the officer insisted he was “just giving [them] a hard time.” The officer told others, “He’s bullshitting, put him in the chair.” Lawrence was strapped into a restraint chair and placed in a “freezing-cold room.”

After going four hours without being checked on, Lawrence responded in English and was removed from the chair.

Upon completing booking, Lawrence requested to remain separated from a Stacy Norris, who was charged with murdering Lawrence’s cousin. Lawrence, however, had his housing assignment switched on October 17, 2018, and was moved to a cellblock with Norris. The next morning, Norris stood at Lawrence’s cell door taunting him as a guard prepared to open the cell door.

In preparation to defend himself, Lawrence urinated in a milk container. He claimed that he threw it on Norris as a preemptive strike, splashing some on the guard. Once the attack ...

Jury Award $700,000 to Maryland Prisoner Assaulted by Guards

After hearing evidence, a jury awarded Younger $700,000 on February 3, 2020.

On September 29, 2013, Younger witnessed a fight between two prisoners and a guard in which the guard was seriously hurt. Although Younger was simply a witness, he was moved to another housing unit. According to Court records, between 6:40 and 7 a.m. Ramsey, Green, and Hanna entered 51-year-old Younger’s cell and threw him from the top bunk to the concrete floor. Once on the floor, the three beat Younger on his head, face, and body with handcuffs, radios and metal keys. They also slammed his head against the toilet bowl, all while verbally berating him.

When the guards left the cell, Younger was left bloody, with serious, and permanent injuries.

Four other prisoners were beaten in the same manner by the goon squad in relation for the same incident.

Realizing ...

IRS Blocks Prisoners from CARES Stimulus Checks

The various laws merely state that anyone filing a federal income return in either 2018 or 2019, or receiving Social Security payments, is entitled to a $1,200  stimulus check.

In some instances, the IRS also is asking various state departments of corrections to not deliver these checks to prisoners, and is also seeking to “claw back” funds from checks already cashed, citing regulations that prevent the incarcerated from receiving federal Social Security payments.

However, the Social Security regulations clearly do not apply to these checks, and no new rules have gone into effect limiting the scope of the payments. The IRS has issued an “advisory” on its website, which lacks the force of law.

According to IRS spokesman Eric Smith, “I can’t give you the legal basis. All I can tell you is this is the language the Treasury and ourselves have been using. It’s just ...

Former Prisoners Are Running for Office In 2020

Tarra Simmons is one of those voices, running for a state representative seat in Washington. Simmons, like many others, found herself addicted to opiates after a serious injury led to dependence on painkillers. Charges for drug dealing, theft and weapons possession followed, leading to almost two years behind bars.

Being incarcerated is part of her story and her identity, and she’s using it as an asset. “I went to prison. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I understand how people end up there,” Simmons says. As lawmakers try to reform policing and justice, it’s vital to have that perspective represented in state capitals and Congress.

Prison is not the only experience Simmons brings to the race. She was an ER nurse prior to her incarceration, and afterward earned a law degree and started a civil rights nonprofit. She ...

Seventh Circuit: Totality of the Circumstances Must be Considered to Show “Policy or Custom” by Government Agency Caused Injury for Monell Claim

Kenyatta Bridges was a pretrial detainee at the Cook County Jail in Illinois in 2014 when he fell off the top bunk and had to be hospitalized after suffering a head injury. The problem was that Bridges had a valid lower bunk pass and shouldn’t have been on the top bunk. He then filed a lawsuit in federal court against Cook County, claiming that the jail staff purposely ignored his lower bunk pass, which resulted in his injury.

However, Bridges could not sue jail staff per se for his injuries, but only the county as an entity, pursuant to Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “a local government may not be sued under [28 U.S.C. § 1983] for an injury inflicted solely by its employees or agents. Instead, it is ...

$122,000 Payout as Utah Settles Suits Claiming Daggett County Jail Torture

On November 15, 2019, the Utah Department of Corrections (DOC) settled lawsuits with four former prisoners who were tortured at the hands of Daggett County Jail guards, agreeing to pay out a total of $122,000. The abuse, which led to the closure of the jail, occurred between May 2015 and February 2017 and further led to criminal charges against the sheriff and four of his underlings in what the Utah Attorney General called “unbelievably inhumane conduct.”

A key player in the abuses was former guard Joshua Cox, who the lawsuits said required prisoners to submit to being shocked and bitten by attack dogs in order to keep their jobs working outside the prison fences. Sometimes Cox abused them if they simply wanted to return to their cells, or even no reason at all. Cox would taunt the prisoners, calling them “bitches” and “pussies,” wrestle with them and choke them out.

Cox was convicted of aggravated assault and spent just four months in county jail. He also lost his peace officer’s certification for life. Jorgensen, the former sheriff who condoned this abuse, was charged in 2017 with failing to keep the prisoners safe.

While prisoners did complain, they ...

Jewish Michigan Prisoners Win Injunction for Religious Sabbath and Holiday Meals

An October 2019 settlement in this class action lawsuit required MDOC to provide Jewish prisoners with kosher meals. The lead plaintiffs were Gerald Ackerman and Mark Shaykin, both of whom were raised Jewish and identified as same upon entering MDOC.

The court held a bench trial on the issue of Ackerman and Shaykin’s belief that they “consume meat and dairy products on the Sabbath and the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Shavuot.” After hearing the evidence, the court had “no trouble” finding these were sincerely held beliefs, and that the quantity of meat and dairy the plaintiffs consume must be part of a “‘meal’ — ‘a joyful meal.’”

The court also was “convinced that it must accept plaintiffs’ assertion that eating cheesecake on Shavuot is a Jewish ritual” that must be followed ...

Texas Prison System Bans Greetings Cards, Postcards, Colored Paper in Mail

The mail restrictions are part of what prison officials refer to as their “Inspect 2 Protect” initiative, which included using drug-sniffing dogs on visitors and employees arriving at the prisons, and a ban on prisoners receiving money transfers into their trust fund accounts or electronic commissary purchases from anyone not on their visitor or phone lists.

The mail restrictions specifically prohibit mail from general correspondents on colored paper, decorated paper, card stock, construction paper, and linen or cotton paper. It also prohibits letters containing “unidentifiable substances,” such as perfume, lipstick, bodily fluids, powdery substances, artwork using paint, glitter, glue or tape, and stickers.

According to TDCJ spokesman Jeremy Desel, the policy change is a response to a significant amount of drugs smuggled into prison on paper that was dipped in liquid drugs, then dried and mailed to prisoners. He said searches turned up greeting cards containing SIM cards for use in contraband ...

News in Brief

California: Beyond Prison Walls, now in its eighth year with Playwrights Project partners at San Diego State University, spotlights the works of prisoner playwrights participating in Out of the Yard programs at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, Centinela State Prison and Community Transition Center. This year, San Diego State University Theatre students performed the prisoners’ original plays in late June, over two days, via the online conferencing program Zoom. Billed as pay-what-you-can performances, the proceeds were donated to the Playwrights Project for future programming. Discussions with the cast and prison representatives followed each performance. Cecelia Kouma, executive director of the Playwrights Project, said, “We are honored to give voice to our writers and celebrate the imagination and resilience of these artists creating art within confinement.”

Cameroon: Rampant overcrowding in Africa’s prisons has thwarted efforts to track and contain the spread of the coronavirus. Cameroon’s central prison in the capital city of Yaoundé is at five times capacity with a population of nearly 5,000. Social distancing, self-isolation and adequate hand washing are not possible. Maroua prison, in the north, was built for 350, but holds over 1,450, of which 70 percent are pre-trial detainees. Malnutrition and limited health care, ...