Visits to Icelandic Prisons Shine Light on America’s Complacency Toward the Suffering of Incarcerated People
After 40 years of an inter-partisan tougher-on-crime-than-you arms race, sentencing reform (and a desire to reduce prison costs) is one issue that now brings Republicans and Democrats together. No other advanced democracy has locked up its citizens at the rate and resulting breadth of brutalizing negligence that we commonly see in the United States. In this moment, essays and articles comparing ours with benign and truly rehabilitative Nordic prisons regularly pose the question, Why can’t Americans become more humane in dealing with people who have offended? But even the will to reduce prison populations and DOC budgets by shortening sentences, diverting people away from lockup, or supporting reentry doesn’t suggest a will to make life inside a whit less degrading. Current conditions make that obvious.
Northern European and U.S. prisons stand not only geographically but philosophically continents apart. After 13 years of teaching inside U.S. prisons, 11 years of collecting and archiving non-fiction essays by incarcerated people, and after walking through nearly identical hallways and laundry rooms, kitchens and work places inside 18 Swedish and Danish, Norwegian and Finnish prisons, I ...
by Paul Wright
COVID-19 has not gone away; indeed it seems to be worsening in prisons and jails around the country. But this month’s cover story on prisons in Iceland serves as a reminder that not all countries have, or want, a police state that cages one percent of its adult population on any given day. Reporting on prisons or jails in almost any industrialized country and comparing its practices to those of the United States is not an apples to oranges comparison so much as an apples to laundry detergent comparison: there simply isn’t one.
It is no surprise that we do not hear of anyone wanting to emulate the U.S. criminal justice system. When I speak with people from other countries, especially in Europe, there tends to be a mixture of disgust and amazement when it comes to the U.S. police state. With the rise of the internet, news indeed travels faster than ever before. Between 2010 and 2019, a total of 25 people were killed by police in England. The U.S., by contrast, does not value the lives of its citizens enough to even bother counting them. Recently, media outlets have taken to tallying up police killings ...
The direction of public policy in massive bureaucratic states tends to create an almost inexorable momentum all on its own, and that momentum often overwhelms not only the conditions that created the policy but also the public welfare it purportedly serves. It is extraordinarily difficult to break this type of momentum, and public figures and political movements have both been known to dash themselves to pieces against the faceless wall of longstanding policy. American mass incarceration is this type of policy. What began as a response to public concerns about violent crime has grown over the decades into a complex web of entrenched interests that seem immune to all attempts at reform.
Historically speaking, established bureaucracies tend to be more vulnerable to sudden shocks than gradual change, with war, natural disasters, or financial crises often providing the impetus for reform. Activists who have been pushing for criminal justice reform believe that the systemic stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic might provide a sufficiently large shock to generate change, and there is growing evidence that their hopes might not be in vain, as discussed in an article by Sarah Stillman in the May 25, 2020 issue of The ...
With the heat of summer’s arrival, Florida prisoners endure living in outdated infrastructure. The Florida Department of Corrections (FDC), in a July 14, 2020 email to prisoners, said it “is making efforts to ease the negative impact of extreme heat in the coming months.” That email was sent shortly after Gov. Ron DeSantis eliminated funding for a prison modernization plan.
To assure prisons can endure hurricanes and heavy use, they are made of concrete and steel, which makes them heat sinks. “Prisons are mostly built from heat-retaining materials, which can increase internal prison temperatures. Because of this, temperatures inside prisons often exceed outdoor temperatures,” said Alexi Jones, a policy analyst with Prison Policy Initiative. “Moreover, people in prison do not have the same cooling options that people on the outside do.”
Summer is the hardest time of year for Florida prisoners. With temperatures regularly in the low to upper 90s and heat indexes that well exceed 100 degrees, living and sleeping in a Florida prison tests one’s mettle to extremes that not even domesticated animals must endure.
Florida law provides that the purpose of prison is punishment, so amenities such as air conditioning are not politically ...
On June 16, 2020, North Carolina’s Wake County Superior Court ordered the state Department of Public Safety (DPS) temporarily to cease the majority of prisoner transfers. Except for medical emergencies or cases of life endangerment, ordered Judge Vinston Rozier, Jr., DPS may not move prisoners unless they have first been tested for the COVID-19 or held in medical quarantine for 14 days.
The decision granted a request filed in a suit mounted by the state chapters of the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union, which were concerned with DPS prisoner movements during the pandemic.
On April 1, 2020, DPS reported the first active cases in its prison population of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. By the next day, there were two infected prisoners at the state’s Neuse Correctional Institute (NCI).
That same day, April 2, 2020, some 200 prisoners at the Goldsboro facility staged a protest, refusing to leave the recreation yard and return to their cells until officials promised stricter measures in response to the pandemic. Instead, 36 of the protesters were transferred to the Pasquotank Correctional Institution (PCI). Shortly afterward, the maximum-security prison near Elizabeth City – which previously had no ...
In late April 2020, prisoners at Arkansas’ Cummins Unit knew that the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, was spreading among not only the prison’s inmates but also its staff. But a prisoner identified as Marco was shocked to learn that the state Department of Corrections (DOC) was telling infected guards to report to work, according to a story in Mother Jones.
Despite offering median pay for guards that is higher than at least 12 other states – including every neighboring state except Texas – Arkansas reported 651 unfilled guard positions in March 2020, a vacancy rate of nearly 14 percent. That was at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, before the number of infected guards began climbing. As of August 7, 2020, it stood at 303, with 42 of those not yet recovered.
As he lay sick with the disease, Marco overheard a guard tell other prisoners that many of his coworkers had tested positive. The guard, who was passing out toilet paper and soap, said, “All of us got it, but they’re telling us to work anyway if we’re not showing symptoms.”
DOC spokesperson Solomon Graves confirmed the policy to Mother Jones, saying ...
Lucero entered the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDOC) weighing 250 pounds on November 4, 2015. His imprisonment put him into depression and on January 27, 2016, he weighed 203 pounds. His mental health continued to deteriorate, and in March 14, 2016, he requested care because he was hearing voices. Psychologist Victor Stevenson determined “mental health services” were “not warranted.”
At an April 28, 2016, “sick call,” Lucero weighed 180 pounds. He was finally sent to ASMP on May 19, 2016, and weighed 172 pounds. From that point on, until his death, medical providers recorded that Lucero was not eating, but they did nothing more.
Even as he lay in a catatonic state on June 19, 2016, nurses wrote that Lucero “refuses all interventions and meds.” The next day his weight was recorded as 145 pounds. He was placed, inexplicably, in solitary confinement on June 23 and no longer received daily medical checks.
Lucero collapsed into unconsciousness on June ...
Four DPS guards also tested positive, one at OCCC, another at the medium-security Halawa Correctional Facility – the state’s largest prison – and two more at the minimum-security Waiawa Correctional Facility. The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) also announced that a staff member had tested positive at Honolulu’s Federal Detention Center (FDC).
BOP previously announced in July 2020 that two FDC Honolulu detainees had received positive test results, though one set of results did not come back before the female detainee had been released. BOP said the infected individuals were in isolation and their contacts were being traced and tested.
None of those who tested positive had died. The infected DPS staff members have been quarantined, ...
a disabled prisoner at the Cook County Jail (CCJ) in Chicago, won class-action certification to represent all of the jail’s disabled prisoners housed in its Division 10 as he proceeds with a lawsuit alleging violations of federal laws protecting the disabled.
The ruling by Judge John Robert Blakey of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois allows Bennet to proceed with a 2018 suit filed against Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart, alleging that CCJ’s Division 10 failed to provide accessibility for disabled persons.
Bennett, an amputee, was housed with inmates in Division 10, all of whom need canes, crutches or walkers. His lawsuit alleges that Division 10 lacks grab bars and other fixtures needed for safe use of showers and bathrooms, resulting in a fall he took. The missing fixtures also constitute violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, the suit said.
Bennett initially sought to represent a class consisting of all detainees who need canes, crutches or walkers, but Judge Blakey denied that motion, ruling that the diverse types of apparatuses would prevent the formation of a class. Bennett then proposed an ...
by Michael D. Cohen, M.D.
Recommendations for behaviors to reduce exposure to coronavirus and infection are changing as more knowledge is gained about the virus and the disease. Of course, implementing these behaviors in a prison setting is often impossible, but it’s worth passing on newer information so prisoners can do their best to stay safe.
Initial recommendations were based on our best knowledge at the time. We knew very little about this new coronavirus, so recommendations were based on experience with other viruses.
We know that influenza (the “flu”) spreads through direct contact with droplets or mucus from the nose and lungs. This is very important for spread of flu, but recent observations suggest it is less important for spread of COVID-19. You need to protect yourself from seasonal flu, so all the habits to avoid direct contact with secretions are still very important for your health:
- No shaking hands.
- Avoid touching your face especially eyes, nose and mouth.
- Proper handwashing techniques.
- Hand sanitizer after contact with any surfaces frequently touched by others.
- Routine sanitizing of surfaces in your cell and especially in common areas like dayrooms, toilets, showers, cafeterias, etc.
These hygiene practices are still important even after ...
here is one word that rarely, if ever, is used to describe anything that occurs in prisons. That word is fair. For example, study after study of prison demographics all conclude that although Black citizens are the minority of the U.S. population, they comprise the majority of the nation’s prison population. Just how fair is that?
Once in prison, a person has a lot of time to read. Many prefer to read, read about their culture, their histories, their present circumstances and possible futures. A Black prisoner in Texas found that classic Black-centered books like The Color Purple had been banned — but Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf and two books authored by former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke were available.
In Wisconsin, Black prisoners are not allowed to read 100 Years of Lynching by Ralph Ginzburg but — once again — Mein Kampf is freely available.
The Illinois Department of Corrections’ Danville prison unit confiscated and banned over 200 Black-centered culture and history books being used in a humanities-based, accredited college program. [PLN, October 2019, p. 59] The reason given was “racial stuff.” No kidding. A good many of the books were eventually returned, but ...
After being detained by ICE in the Krome Detention Center in Florida for three weeks, “Carlos,” a Colombian national who flew to Indianapolis under a travel visa to go shopping with his aunt for toys and clothes for his newborn son, was put on a plane and sent back to Colombia by ICE. What nobody knew was that Carlos was infected with COVID-19 and brought it back to his country, along with several others on that plane. And nobody on the plane was given masks.
Nicholas Barrera, another Colombian deported by ICE, spent four months in Krome and another ICE facility in Wakulla County, Florida. Protected in a “sanctuary city” in Gaithersburg, Maryland, Barrera was picked up by ICE in Florida (not a protected area) for a broken headlight. He was deported, leaving his wife and kids back in Maryland. He tested positive for ...
Our updated analysis finds that the initial efforts to reduce jail populations have slowed, while the small drops in state prison populations are still too little to save lives.
by Emily Widra and Peter Wagner, Prison Policy Initiative, originally published August 5, 2020
At a time when more new cases of the coronavirus are being reported each day, state and local governments should be redoubling their efforts to reduce the number of people in prisons and jails, where social distancing is impossible and the cycle of people in and out of the facility is constant. But our most recent analysis of data from hundreds of counties across the country shows that efforts to reduce jail populations have actually slowed — and even reversed in some places.
Even as the pandemic has spiked in many parts of the country, 71% of the 668 jails we’ve been tracking saw population increases from May 1st to July 22nd, and 84 jails had more people incarcerated on July 22nd than they did in March. This trend is particularly alarming since we know it’s possible to further reduce these populations: in our previous analysis, we found that local governments initially took swift action ...
Prison overcrowding has been quietly tolerated for decades. But the pandemic is forcing a reckoning.
by Dara Lind, ProPublica
This article was originally published June 18, 2020, by ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published.
Jason Thompson lay awake in his dormitory bed in the Marion Correctional Institution in central Ohio, immobilized by pain, listening to the sounds of “hacking and gurgling” as the novel coronavirus passed from bunk to bunk like a game of “sick hot potato,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
Thompson lives in Marion’s dorm for disabled and older prisoners — a place he described to ProPublica in a phone call as the prison’s “old folks home” — where 199 inmates, many frail and some in wheelchairs, were isolated in a space designed for 170. As the disease spread among bunks spaced 3 or 4 feet apart, Thompson said he could see bedridden inmates with full-blown symptoms and others “in varying stages of recovery. While the rest of us are rarely 6 feet away from anyone else, sick or not.”
“Prison is not designed for social distancing,” said Thompson, who is serving ...
Mental-health problems, short staffing plague a Texas lockup in COVID lockdown.
It wasn’t until Cornelius Harper asked prison staff to check on his cellmate that they realized the man was dead. Had been dead for at least three days. Had been choked and beaten so badly he had dried blood and bruises all over his face.
Given that the prison was on lockdown, there weren’t many suspects. Harper hasn’t been charged, but officials say he killed his cellie and tried to hide it, covering the body with a sheet that rippled in the breeze from the cracked window, mimicking movement.
Some officials have suggested that Harper may have done more, perhaps positioning and repositioning the body of 26-year-old Silvino Núñez to make it seem as if he were alive ...
Jodie Sinclair is the co-author of two nationally published non-fiction books and the author of a recently released memoir about her 25-year fight to free her husband from prison after a wrongful conviction, “Love Behind Bars: The True Story of an American Prisoner’s Wife.” She also co-authored her husband’s autobiography, “A Life in the Balance: The Billy Wayne Sinclair Story,” which was written while he was still in prison. She is a former TV news reporter with a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
How did you meet your husband?
I lived in upscale neighborhoods growing up. My family belonged to country clubs. I went to an elite private school. But I didn’t meet my husband at a society event. I met him in 1981 at the Death House at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. When Angola’s warden refused to let us marry a year later, I married Billy by proxy in Texas.
There were no bells or whistles at our wedding. My brother-in-law and I went to the courthouse in downtown Houston with notarized documents Billy had sent to me, swearing he wanted ...
You recently wrote on Twitter that the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) is one of the primary “horror stories” for your work. The PLRA is not that well known outside of legal circles. Can you briefly describe its origins and consequences?
Congress passed the PLRA and Bill Clinton signed it into law months before his reelection in 1996. The PLRA places onerous burdens and restrictions on incarcerated people who file lawsuits in federal court to enforce their Constitutional rights, including the right to be free of cruel and unusual punishments, freedom of speech, and ...
David, 28, was counting the days until January 6, 2012, when his prison sentence would end and he would be released on parole. He had earned his GED diploma inside and lined up some job options in construction and landscaping around Albuquerque. But the date came and went, and still the state kept him locked up.
The problem was housing. There was only one halfway house in the state that would take an inmate like David — a convicted sex offender — and it had a long waiting list. If he wanted to get a bed there anytime soon, David would have to buy his freedom — in cash.
He was lucky – he and his sister were able to come up with the money. A $600 rent payment jumped him to the front of the line.
“I felt that I was being treated unfair,” he said. “I’d already fulfilled my obligation of my sentence. Why were they giving me such a hard time?”
David isn’t the only inmate in New Mexico forced to choose between staying behind bars or paying to parole more quickly. Two other ...
Governor Mike DeWine admitted back in June 2019 that the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) standards were outdated and did not reflect societal changes. “Look, running a jail today is very different than it was 50 years ago or 25 years ago. With the massive amount of people that have a mental health problem or who have substance abuse problem in our county jails, they are under tremendous pressure,” he said.
The 2020 reports said the DRC had tripled the staff of jail inspectors from three to nine and would begin top-to-bottom annual inspections of its facilities. Ohio’s administrative code also was altered to include surprise inspections and mandated that critical incidents such as use-of-force and suicides be reported. The period from May to December of 2019 recorded 25 escapes, 21 deaths, 16 suicides (as well as two more attempts considered “serious”), three charges of sexual misconduct and three fires.
The changes in DRC policy follow 15 federal lawsuits ...
“I believe that profit should never be a motive in the prison industrv,’’ said Rep. Leslie Herod, the Denver Democrat who co-sponsored the bill.
Support for the legislation was split along party lines, but the bill was approved in the House and Senate. Resistance from Republicans has been based on the economic impact that closing the state’s three private prisons will have on the small towns where they are located.
“I don’t know why there is a bill here to target rural Colorado in such a detrimental way as this bill does,” said Rep. Rod Pelton, whose eastern district houses a correctional facility owned by CoreCivic that had been scheduled to reopen.
Other counties in the southeastern part of the state reported that their local private prisons accounted for 25 percent to 50 percent of their tax base. Herod said the study funded by her bill would take those ...
Before this, California law authorized counties to charge prisoners for telephone calls and jail commissary items to pay for rehabilitation and reentry services. Under that law, San Francisco generated an estimated $1.7 million annually by charging prisoners 15 cents per minute for telephone calls — $4.50 for a 30-minute call — and a 43% markup on soap, toothpaste, food and other commissary items.
“It can really add up. It’s people’s families who really foot the bill,” said Stuhldreher as she recounted heartbreaking stories of prisoner family members being forced to choose between staying in touch with incarcerated loved ones and paying their utility bills. “Our research shows it’s almost always low-income women of color.”
While Black individuals make up less than 6 percent of San Francisco’s general population, they represent roughly half of the jail’s population, Stuhldreher noted.
San Francisco ...
According to court records and reporting by The Bangor Daily News, Somali refugee Sadiya Ali arrived in the United States from Kenya, when her son, identified only as A.I., was 6 months old. Her primary language is Somali.
A.I. suffers from severe Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a brain disorder characterized by hyperactivity and impulsivity. He also suffers from several other “serious mental disorders.”
Maine’s only state-run juvenile detention center, Long Creek Youth Development Center (Long Creek), has a troubled history. In October 2016, Charles Knowles, a 16-year-old mentally ill transgender boy, killed himself while on suicide watch. Staff promised his mother they would protect him but provided no mental health treatment.
In January 2017, the Maine Department of Corrections found that more than 80 percent of Long Creek detainees had been diagnosed with three or more mental health diagnoses and over 75 percent ...
Weinstein, 67, joins a number of others with the financial means to hire prison experts prior to serving time, including Bernie Madoff, Martha Stewart, Michael Vick and many of the “Varsity Blues” parents charged in a 2019 college admissions bribery scandal. But unlike them, Weinstein is headed for state prison, which is potentially known to house more violent individuals in less accommodating living conditions than those in federal lockups.
Rothfeld, 45, served two years in prison in 2015 for an $11 million securities fraud. He says he started his firm to help others navigate what he calls “the journey” from living free to incarceration. But his is not the only prison consulting firm.
Others include White Collar Advice, founded by Justin Paperny after his 2009 release from federal prison for securities fraud; Wall Street Prison Consultants, founded by Larry Levine in 2006 after he finished a federal prison sentence for racketeering, securities fraud, obstruction ...
Filed on July 18, 2019, by Nicasio Cuevas Quiles III and nine fellow prisoners at the medium-security facility, the suit sought $15 million in damages for alleged exposure to asbestos, radium, lead and black mold, as well as contaminated water and unsanitary living conditions, all in violation of plaintiffs’ Eighth Amendment rights.
The order by Judge William M. Conley dismissed the case without prejudice, giving plaintiffs specific instructions on how they could amend or refile the case to meet procedural deficiencies that killed it.
For example, Conley found that the suit lists claims that broadly fall into three categories alleging (a) discrimination, (b) unlawful confinement conditions or (c) inadequate health care. To avoid running afoul of federal procedural rules that prevent mixing different claims in one suit, he recommended that plaintiffs file three separate lawsuits.
Conley also found that the suit failed to allege sufficient facts to support all of its legal claims. And it failed to allege a set of facts common to ...
There has been no corresponding spike in serious prisoner-on-staff assaults, which hovered between 72 and 108 per year during the decade. In only two years did the number top 100.
A TDCJ spokesman tried to tie the increased staff use of force to an increase in the number of violent and mentally ill prisoners. But the system’s statistics show an increase of only 4 percent in the number of violent prisoners incarcerated in TDCJ between 2009 and 2019.
What has increased is the number of guards being criminally prosecuted for assaulting — or even murdering — prisoners. Such criminal prosecutions have become more common, with 19 TDCJ guards sentenced for using excessive force against prisoners since 2015. None of the cases involved a death and few in jail time, with most requiring a ...
A transgender woman who was housed with male prisoners at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. (MDC), sued the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) on the grounds that staff ignored her requests for safety, resulting in her allegedly being repeatedly beaten and raped in a male housing unit.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York on March 18, 2020. It claimed that staff at the MDC refused to recognize Tavoy Malcolm’s female identity and forced her to house with male prisoners, instead of at the women’s unit or in protective custody. Malcolm, 29, who uses the name Tiana Miller, was placed in the MDC in May 2017 after her arrest for fraud and theft.
The lawsuit says Malcolm was undergoing the physical transformation from male to female at time of her arrest, including hormone therapy and breast augmentation surgery. She had “developed a feminine shape and other female characteristics,” court papers says. At intake, Malcolm told staff that she identified as female and wanted to be placed in female housing or in segregation, not with male prisoners.
She initially refused when she was ordered to go into male housing. It ...
The officials were not named in the brief public report, but — according to USA Today coverage of the story — officials familiar with the matter identified the BOP official as Judith Garrett and the ex-prison union chief as Eric Young, who served in that capacity through August 2019.
The BOP said “the assistant director had been removed from a management position in July 2018.”
“The BOP will take appropriate actions in response to the (inspector general’s) findings,” the agency’s statement said, but declined prosecution of Garrett.
Young’s successor as union president, Shane Fausey, said the findings were “a surprise,” and “We are convening an emergency meeting of the board right now. We’re going to have to look back at everything to see what related to him (Young) ...
That’s what happened to David Jones, who was held for 14 months in the Clark County Detention Center in 2013 before the state conceded that Jones was innocent of the charges. He was released, but not without a departing gift from the jail: a bill for over $4,000 to cover the cost of his incarceration.
After an initial payment, Jones filed a lawsuit in the federal and state courts, claiming that the law was unconstitutional. But the courts disagreed and dismissed his lawsuits. First, the federal court ruled that because Jones was billed for his stay in jail after his release and no money was taken from him out of his control, he had no constitutional ...
The doctor went to work on June 19, 2020. Within days, the number of detainees testing positive for coronavirus jumped from two to 20 to 178. Another 19 staffers also tested positive.
“We had done a great job up until, you know, we had one employee or contract employee not follow, you know, basic protocol and started this whole chain,” Williams said. “They were, at some point, symptomatic and didn’t report that. It was one of the health care workers in the jail. They, obviously, have since been removed and are no longer an employee of the health care provider.”
The Sheriff’s Office issued a statement that said it was a doctor who exposed detainees and staff to COVID-19. “When you contact trace it back, that seems to be the only point where, you know, there was a lapse in following the protocol.”
Prior to that exposure, the Sheriff’s ...
The charity and social enterprise has worked with around 7,000 prisoners and ex-prisoners worldwide in creating art in all manner of mediums: embroidery, quilting, and furniture and needlepoint wall hangings. It has created pieces that now hang in Kensington Palace and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Arts patron Agnes Gund of America has collected many of these works made by prisoners to use in her Agnes Gund’s Art For Justice Fund. She is attempting to help fund criminal justice reform organizations by obtaining the works so she can resell them to institutes such as Drawing Center, Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum and the New Museum. Some of contemporary arts big names, such as Ai Weiwei, Wolfgang Tillmans, Annie Morris, Carolina Mazzolari and Idris Kahn, have collaborated in creating these different forms of art.
Beginning in March 2020, Sotheby’s featured eight pieces from Fine Cell Work up for silent auction.
The organization also helps place ex-prisoners with jobs ...
While held at FCI Gilmer in West Virginia, Michael Evans was stabbed multiple times with a Phillips-head screwdriver. The May 2, 2013, incident occurred in the dining hall. Evans sued under the Federal Torts Claims Act and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging the screwdriver was FCI Gilmer property and that guards failed to secure it. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) disclaimed ownership, and the lawsuits were dismissed.
While those suits were pending, Evans submitted an FOIA request seeking records from 2003 to 2013 concerning receipt of tools at the prison and video from his assault. The BOP responded that it would cost around $14,320 to process the request.
Evans narrowed his request by including a picture of the screwdriver and asked to receive information related to it and to provide the video. BOP denied the request on grounds that the screwdriver was never its property and claimed exemptions that ...
Though it’s the smallest state in the country, Rhode Island has the ninth highest rate for drug overdose deaths. This prompted Governor Gina Raimondo to invest $2 million in 2020 into a program that provides prisoners the option of medication-assisted-treatment (MAT) for their drug addiction. The program was implemented in 2016. Within one year, drug overdose deaths of prison releasees dropped by 61 percent.
The program is so effective that the American Medical Association’s journal Psychiatry published a report on it in February 2018, suggesting that Rhode Island’s MAT program prevented one overdose for every 11 prisoners it treated.
But Rhode Island is an outlier. While this country imprisons more than 2 million of its residents, at least 60 percent of whom struggle with drug addiction, most prison systems don’t offer MAT — or any drug addiction treatment. Two reasons they cite are lack of money ...
When 18, Sutton killed two men in North Carolina and his father’s mother. The year was 1980 when prisons across the country were even more horribly overcrowded than they are now. When severe overcrowding in prisons occurs, violence and survival of the fittest amongst the prison population becomes paramount. At one point, a prisoner struck Sutton on the head so hard that one of his eyes popped out of its socket.
In 1985, prison predator Carl Estep announced his plans to murder Sutton. The situation ballooned into what former warden and corrections commissioner James E. Aiken characterized as a “kill or be killed” situation. Sutton survived — Estep did not. Since Sutton’s co-combatant refused a plea offer for a 30- to 40-year long prison ...
by Douglas Ankney
Forty-three states, along with the District of Columbia and the federal government, passed “consequential legislation” in 2019 aimed at reducing barriers faced by people with criminal records.
The 152 laws significantly or completely eliminated obstacles to societal reintegration in areas of employment, housing, voting, jury duty and other areas of daily life. According to a February 2020 report by the Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC), last year was “an extraordinarily fruitful period of law reform in the United States.”
The CCRC, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that advocates for the removal of “legal restrictions and societal stigma that burden people with a criminal record long after their criminal case is closed,” has tracked legislative progress in this area since 2013.
Approximately one in three American adults — or 77 million people — had a criminal record, according the data collected by the National Conference of State Legislatures in 2018. The 152 laws passed in 2019 ranged from facilitating the expungement of criminal records for marijuana possession, the elimination of barriers to occupational licensing, and lifting restrictions on public housing.
The record number of laws passed in 2019 set in place a “reform trajectory [that] makes us optimistic that ...
In March 2014, Russell D. Towner was a prisoner at New York’s Tioga County Correctional Facility. Fellow prisoner David Nugent allegedly told Towner that he intended to kill or pay someone to kill ADA Cheryl Mancini. Nugent supposedly solicited Towner and other prisoners to assist him.
On March 26, 2014, Towner wrote Mancini to warn her of Nugent’s threats. Tioga County District Attorney Kirk Martin became aware of Towner’s letter on April 10, 2014. Martin contacted Towner’s attorney, Alan Stone, to arrange for Tioga County Sheriff’s Department investigators Patrick Hogan and Wayne Moulton to interview Towner at the jail.
That day, Towner and Stone met with Hogan and Moulton for a videotaped interview. Martin remained in an adjoining room and learned of the interview results soon after it ended.
“You will be acting as an agent of the police and nothing you say or do can be used against you,” Hogan advised Towner during the interview.“Show us you care ...
The announcement followed a March 12, 2020, ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York which denied, in part, a motion for summary judgment by the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DCCS) in a 2017 suit brought by H’Shaka related to his combined 23 years of solitary confinement – 13 years in a DCCS Special Housing Unit (SHU) and a decade in Administrative Segregation (Ad Seg).
After several arrests as a minor, H’Shaka was committed to DCCS at age 18 in 1991 upon conviction of second-degree murder and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon. In 1996, he used a razor to slash the faces of two guards. He was tried in Greene County Court and received an additional 15-year term for the assaults. He also received a sentence of 15 years of disciplinary confinement in SHU from a DCCS internal tier hearing. That sentence was later reduced to 10 years.
In 2010, H’Shaka was released ...
Connecticut prisoner Christopher J.M. Lewis was a member of the PIRU or PIRU Bloods gang. He was housed in a maximum-security prison where all prisoners are confined to their cells except for one hour of recreation in a small prison yard.
Lewis was designated as a gang member who posed a threat to the general population, assigned to the Security Risk Group Threat Member (SRGTM) program and confined in the Phase 1 area. Phase 1 prisoners must be strip searched and handcuffed behind their back when escorted to the yard.
In July 2010, gang intelligence supervisor Lieutenant Brian Siwicki intercepted a written communication, accusing Lewis of disagreeing “with ‘PIRU Bloods’ rules” and accusing him of breaking them. Siwicki learned that PIRU leader Christian Mulligan had decided that Lewis “was done.”
In August or September 2010, Siwicki informed Lewis that he was going to be assaulted. Siwicki and Captain David Butkiewicus later told Lewis that they were aware of the July 2010 incident, that his safety could be ...
The United States imprisons about 2.3 million of its residents, not counting the millions more in county jails and on probation or parole. It also holds 83 percent of the world’s prisoners serving life sentences without the possibility of parole (LWOP). The U.S. lifer population today stood at 206,268 — which exceeded the entire country’s prison population in 1970 of 197,245.
The study found that in 24 states there were now more people serving life in prison than who were in prison for all crimes back in 1970, and an additional nine states were within 100 people of their 1970 prison population. The highest numbers were found out West, with Nevada and Utah more than quadrupling their 1970 populations (469 percent and 408 percent, respectively), with life sentences in ...
The legislatively established Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission issued a November 2019 report on the matter, recommending the state add several hundred beds for substance abusers and aging prisoners as well as sentencing reforms.
Governor Laura Kelly is in favor of these remedies and is forging ahead with renovations to two existing buildings close to the Winfield Correctional Facility, which will add 241 more beds at a cost of $9.3 million. Another building remodel at the Lansing prison will cost $3.5 million. Estimates for an entirely new 1,200-bed prison run from $135 million to $145 million, making the renovation plans fiscally sound by comparison.
Kansas prisons are already so overcrowded the state pays the private prison firm CoreCivic to house over a hundred state residents in an Arizona prison.
Kansas American Civil Liberties Union director Nadine Johnson applauds the ...
The morning of January 23, 2013, started innocently for Franqui. He called friend Simon Earl with the desire to go over to his house to show off a 1972 Cadillac El Dorado he’d just purchased. Franqui popped the hood so Simon could look at the engine.
A half-hour after he arrived at 10:45 a.m., someone called the Suffolk County Police Department to report a suspicious vehicle. Officer Karen Grenia accelerated down Simon’s street and abruptly stopped her patrol vehicle at a 45-degree angle in front of Simon’s home. She exited the vehicle with gun drawn, ordering Simon “to get down on his knees, get down on the ground, raise his arms, and not move.” She gave Franqui inconsistent orders, telling him to get out of the car and then to put his hands on the steering wheel and not move them or she would shoot him.
Simon was handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car once back-up arrived. No drugs or ...
Now, a study published February 1, 2020 in The Lancet public health journal by Cornell professor Christopher Wildeman and Lars Andersen of Denmark’s ROCKWOOL Foundation has documented a link between being placed in solitary confinement and a significant increase in prisoner death rates within five years of release.
The authors set out to discover if they could find a link between solitary confinement among Danish prisoners and post-release mortality. For their study, they gathered data from Danish government sources on all 13,776 people who had been incarcerated for seven days or longer in the period stretching from 2006-2011.
They sorted these individuals into two groups — those who had spent at least 72 hours in solitary confinement during their incarceration and those who had not. The study tracked mortality rates among both ...
Another positive change will be making electronic tablets available to the county jail’s population. It will cost detainees $5 per month to rent a tablet with educational programming included.
Movies, music and video games will be available for 99¢ to $12.99 per item. Incoming e-mail messages will be free. It will cost 24¢ for a prisoner to send responses.
Sheriff Marian Brown was initially worried about tablet monitoring and usage capabilities. Securus Technologies assuaged Brown’s trepidations, assuring her the only outreach possible will be to the ultra-secure Securus intranet — and then only when the tablets are docked at stations located outside of the prisoners’ cells overnight.
Sheriff Brown has opted for a positive, ...
BOP argued that it had stepped up sanitation, screening prisoners and staff and quarantining positive prisoners. Calling those “reasonable efforts” in “preventing unnecessary illness and death and slowing the spread of the virus,” Judge Louise W. Flanagan denied a May 26, 2020, petition the prisoners had filed seeking a writ of habeas corpus and a class-action request for declaratory and injunctive relief.
As of June 12, 2020, FCC Butner had reported positive coronavirus test results for 910 prisoners and 55 staff members. Since the pandemic reached the state in March 2020, 18 prisoners and a staff member have died from the disease. The majority of cases were at the prison’s low security complex, with 675 prisoners and 17 staff experience active cases. But at least two cases were reported in each of the complex’s four prisons.
Attorneys representing the plaintiffs argued that the 4,438 men at FCC Butner “are crammed into a space ...
Some states have since repealed or amended their “three-strikes” laws due to unjust outcomes. Mississippi has not. This led to a buildup of 86 prisoners serving LWOP in Mississippi state prisons for nonviolent crimes, The Clarion-Ledger reported on March 18, 2020.
The Mississippi state prison system holds about 19,000 prisoners. Of them, 2,600 are serving long sentences enhanced by prior offenses—including the 86 convicted of nonviolent offenses and sentenced to LWOP. Incarcerating the prisoners with enhanced sentences costs Mississippi taxpayers over $38 million each year, the newspaper reported. This helps explain why Mississippi has the second-highest incarceration rate of ...
“The [Connecticut] DOC appears to routinely resort to repressive measures, such as prolonged or indefinite isolation, excessive use of in cell restraints, and needlessly intrusive strip searches,” said Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. “There seems to be a state-sanctioned policy aimed at purposefully inflicting pain or suffering, physical or mental, which may well amount to torture.”
“These practices trigger and exacerbate psychological suffering, in particular in inmates who may have experienced previous trauma or have mental health conditions or psychosocial disabilities,” Melzer added. “The severe and often irreparable psychological and physical consequences of solitary confinement and social exclusion are well documented and can range from progressively severe forms of anxiety, stress, and depression to cognitive impairment and suicidal tendencies.”
Those comments were in response to a May 2019 letter from the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale University, which alleged Connecticut “systematically ...
The Commission was tasked with considering the psychological profile of prisoners, housing, employment, education, training, addiction and substance abuse treatment, medical and mental health treatment, access to legal assistance and other issues related to the failures and successes associated with reentry.
What the Commission found was that the prison population reflects deep social problems of race, poverty and the failure of social institutions to provide a way that would reduce the rates of incarceration. New Jersey has the highest racial disparity in state prisons in the nation. Individuals in the state who are Black are 12 times more likely than Whites to be incarcerated and Latinos six times more likely.
But how to fix the problem is at the top of New Jersey’s list.
With over 75 percent of parolees at the national level being rearrested within five years of release, the commission looked at ways ...
On July 2, 2019, Natasha Grayson – an employee of the Madison County Criminal Justice Complex (“MCCJC”) – filed a collective action lawsuit on behalf of herself and other similarly situated current and former employees seeking to recover unpaid wages, attorney’s fees, and statutory penalties for violations of the FLSA. “Grayson and other employees worked over 40 hours per week but were not paid for their overtime work,” said an article in The Jackson Sun. “The sheriff’s office required CJC employees to show up to work 15 minutes before their eight-hour shift and continue working 15-20 minutes after the shift ended.”
On December 2, 2019, the parties submitted a proposed settlement to the Court. The settlement required Madison County to pay $1.25 million to the Plaintiffs with a condition that 40% of that amount ($500,000) be paid to Plaintiff’s counsel, Michael L. Weinman, for fees and expenses. Plaintiffs had agreed ...
PLN won the right to deliver its materials to prisoners, plus monetary damages, and on August 24, 2020 was awarded substantial attorney fees. HRDC sued after jail authorities blocked the delivery of prisoner books, educational material, and all magazines, including PLN’s magazine and prisoner support materials.
In its August order, the judge noted, “In this suit..., I previously granted summary judgment for the plaintiff on its First Amendment claim against the jail authority and on its due process claim against both defendants.”
“In summary,” the court continued, “I held that the Jail Authority had violated HRDC’s First Amendment rights by (1) prohibiting inmates from receiving books except those preapproved by the Jail Authority; and (2) prohibiting inmates from receiving any magazines. I further held that the Jail Authority and Superintendent Stephen Clear had violated HRDC’s due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment by rejecting or confiscating HRDC’s mailings to prisoners ...
“This action today is going to save 1,184 lives,” attorney Reuben Guttman argued to Seymour during the hearing.
He represented Bernard Bagley and Willie James Jackson, two prisoners who joined a lawsuit originally filed against the state Department of Corrections (DOC) in March 2018 by prisoner Russell Geissler, who was represented by Christopher Bryant. Geissler’s complaint was about lack of HCV treatment, while the others’ complaint was about HCV testing. The two complaints were combined in a class-action granted in December 2018. [See PLN, June 2019, p.44.]
Chronic HCV causes liver inflammation, scarring (fibrosis) and decreased liver function. It can lead to liver disease, cancer, internal bleeding and even death. The acceptable standard of care for prisoners is across the board testing and treatment with direct-acting antiviral (DAA) drugs, which have been proven to provide a 95 percent cure rate. Moreover, DAA drugs, which may have cost upward of $80,000 per patient a few years ago, now only cost ...
A report put out by the Prison Policy Initiative and the American Civil Liberties Campaign for Smart Justice in October 2019 collected what sparse data existed in gender-specific statistics and evaluated and presented them in a format that reflected female prison population trends and their effect on society.
Statistics were gathered from a number of government agencies and broke down the number of females held in facilities across the United States by offense. The report stated that it “answers the questions of why and where women are locked up.”
The report showed women’s incarceration rates growing twice as fast as men’s within the last 20 years. Most states do not have the capacity to house all of these women in their prisons, so more and more are being held in county jails than in prisons. There were 231,000 women incarcerated in America: 53% White, 29% Black, 14% Hispanic, 2.5% American Indian and Alaska Native, 0.9% Asian, and 0.4% Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. Of those, 114,000 are in jails, either ...
Wages for prisoners at the DOC vary from $0.90 to $2.75 per day, according to position and skill level. MCE’s 1,500 prisoner laborers receive between 17 cents and $1.16 an hour.
Maryland spends more than $5 million a year to pay for DOC prisoner labor. Wages for MCE workers add another $2.68 million. Meanwhile, the program brought in $52 million last year from the sale of products ranging from furniture and flags to stationery and license plates.
The move by lawmakers to publish prison wages was also seen as a window into the job skills offered during incarceration and how or if those skills would be useful after release. An earlier version of the bill also called for transparency on the costs that prisoners pay for commissary items, but that failed to pass.
The Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit based in Massachusetts, reports ...
The 43-year-old naturalized citizen from Nigeria, also known as “Akon” or “Africa,” had been charged in a nine-count indictment handed down in May 2019 with sexually abusing a total of seven female prisoners between 2012 and 2018. The other six women were willing to join the seventh victim in public testimony against Akparanta, prosecutors promised.
In exchange for his guilty plea and undefined restitution to the seven women, prosecutors plan to ask for a prison sentence of 36 to 47 months, less than one-third the maximum sentence of 12 years that Akparanta faces. He was scheduled for sentencing on July 8, 2020, but on June 4, 2020, his attorneys requested a delay until September 2020. Prosecutors did not object. He remains out of confinement on bail at his New Jersey home with his wife.
Akparanta allegedly smuggled feminine hygiene products, makeup and food to his victims to extort their cooperation in the abuse and its coverup. ...
The DC Council approved an emergency bill July 7, 2020 that included the Restore the Vote Amendment, authorizing voting by residents incarcerated in jail or prison with a felony conviction.
The District joins just two states, Maine and Vermont, which maintain voting rights for imprisoned citizens.
The District of Columbia is first among several jurisdictions considering expanding voting rights to imprisoned citizens. In recent years, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Mexico and New Jersey have considered similar measures.
The Restore the Vote Amendment was included in emergency policing and justice reform legislation. The DC Council intends to permanently authorize voting rights for all incarcerated District residents with a felony conviction in a future bill. While District residents sentenced to local code violations are imprisoned in the federal Bureau of Prisons, residents incarcerated in federal prisons are allowed to vote under the reform. As residents of the District of Columbia, D.C. voters can vote in local and presidential elections but do not have representation in Congress.
Now is the time to register and get your absentee ballot if you had a District address prior to imprisonment. The D.C. Board of Elections is trying to contact District residents in ...
In the case of Lomax v. Ortiz-Marquez, et al., the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in a 9-0 decision on June 8, 2020, affirmed the Tenth Circuit opinion dismissal of Arthur Lomax’ lawsuit as barred under what has been termed the “three-strikes” rule, rejecting his argument that dismissals that were “without prejudice” to refiling did not count as “strikes.”
Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the high court, noted, “Petitioner Arthur Lomax is an inmate in a Colorado prison. He filed this suit against respondent prison officials to challenge his expulsion from the facility’s sex-offender treatment program. As is common in prison litigation, he also moved for IFP status to allow his suit to go forward before he pays the $400 filing fee.”
Lomax argued that Section 1915(g), which defines the “three-strikes” rule, did not bar his free filing as at least two of his three previous lawsuits were dismissed “without prejudice.” ...
California:In June 2020, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) commuted 21 state prisoners’ sentences, a dozen of them were for murder convictions, patch.com reported. Seven were committed when the prisoner was 22 or younger. Half of the prisoners are now 59 or older. One commutation went to 62-year-old Thomas Waterbury, who served 39 years of a life-without-parole sentence for the 1983 murder of his wife, Deborah, when he was 22. Her brother, Jeff, strongly objected and said he hoped the parole board would reverse the governor’s decision. The governor had previously issued another 21 commutations in March 2020, nine of them to convicted murderers, including 64-year-old Richard Flowers, who stabbed an elderly Tulare woman to death during a 1994 home invasion. The county’s district attorney, Tim Ward, launched a public campaign to fight a 2018 clemency petition from Flowers to former Gov. Jerry Brown (D). Since taking office in 2019, Newsom has issued a total of 65 commutations, which do not expunge a criminal’s record and must be approved by the state parole board.
California: Prisoners belonging toa Fresno-based drug-dealing gang were involved in 32 brawls in state prisons over a single year ending September 25, 2019, according to ...
That ruling came in an appeal brought by Indiana prisoner Leonard Thomas, who sued numerous prison officials at the Westville Correctional Facility. His complaint alleged his requests for mental health care were denied or ignored and that officials failed to protect him from self-harm.
Over a 20-month period, “Thomas’s case traveled a lengthy journey, which included amendments to his complaint and denials of his requests for counsel,” the Seventh Circuit wrote. His failure to respond to a district court order resulted in dismissal of the case.
The Seventh Circuit first considered the question of appointment of counsel because it resolved the other issues on appeal. While civil litigants do not have a statutory right to court-appointed counsel, the district may request an attorney represent a party.
In exercising that discretion, the district court must inquire if (1) “the indigent plaintiff made a reasonable attempt to obtain counsel … and if so; (2) given the difficulty of the case, does the ...